Tuesday, September 27, 2016



Here's to the land of the cotton bloom white,
Where the scuppernong perfumes the breeze at night,
Where the soft southern moss and jessamine mate,
'Neath the murmuring pines of the Old North State!

-From the North Carolina Official State Toast


The Scuppernong Vine at Leigh Farm Park

Ripe scuppernong grapes at Leigh Farm Park

Did you know that the grape vine at Leigh Farm Park is thought to have been cultivated by the Leigh family for over 100 years? This vine produces scuppernong (vitis rotundifolia) grapes, which are a type of muscadine grape. The name comes from the word askuponong, which is Algonquian in origin and means “place of the askupo” which refers to a sweet bay tree. Around 1800 this type of grape was given the name scuppernong after a river of the same name located in the Eastern part of North Carolina in present day Washington and Tyrrell counties.
The scuppernong grape is intertwined with North Carolina history to such a degree that in 2001 it was named the official state fruit.  It was the first grape cultivated in the United States. In 1524 the Italian explorer Giovanni de Verrazano took note of it and later British explorers sent to Roanoke Island by Sir Walter Raleigh wrote to Queen Elizabeth that the land was
"so abounding with sweet trees that bring rich and most pleasant gummes, grapes of such greatness, yet wild, as France, Spain, nor Italy hath not greater…"
For many years it was actually called the “Roanoke grape,” and today there is a scuppernong grape “mother vine” that covers half an acre on Roanoke Island and dates back over 400 years! It is thought to be the oldest grape vine in the world and members of the Roanoke Island colony are credited with its discovery.
 The scuppernong grape was just one of the many foods produced at Leigh Farm since its settlement in the 1830s by Richard Stanford Leigh and his wife Nancy Ann Carlton Leigh.  By 1860 the Leighs owned almost 1,000 acres, six horses, eight milk cows, 45 sheep, 66 hogs, 12 cattle, and a mule. Along with 16 enslaved people, they produced milk, corn, peas, beans, cotton, sweet potatoes, honey, beeswax, wool and wheat.
The grape arbor in October 2014

When the City of Durham acquired Leigh Farm Park the grape arbor was in bad shape and the cedar posts were rotting and falling over. Fortunately our volunteer Mike Shelby took over the maintenance of the vine in February 2015 and it’s now thriving! Mike not only replaced all of the cedar posts, he brought the vine back to life using a process called “air layering.” This involves taking a vine runner, threading it through an empty two liter soda bottle and adding a mix of peat moss, sand and wood chips. This is attached to the post and kept moist until it starts rooting about 10 weeks later. The new rooted plant is then snipped off at the bottom and the plastic bottle removed. This process basically clones the original heritage vine, which is important since there are over 50 varieties of scuppernong. The grapes are just starting to ripen, and are a lovely bronze color. Mike regularly prunes the vine so that it will grow spread out across the entire arbor. Thanks to his hard work, it should be around for another 100 years!
New cedar posts in 2015

Pruning the vines in August 2016


Our volunteer Mike with the fruits of his labor

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