Vitis ‘Roger’s Red’— An Ornamental Grape
As fall settles in and deciduous trees show off glorious hues of yellow, orange, red and purple, one outstanding performer that often fails to get attention is Vitis californica, our native California wild grape and its relatives. One of these relatives most commonly seen in nurseries is Vitis ‘Roger’s Red,’ although a smaller vine called ‘Walker Ridge’ is sometimes available.
This deciduous vine is not shy. ‘Roger’s Red’ can grow to at least 30 feet and will ramble over and up anything within the grasp of its tendrils, once it is established. Getting this climber established is easy, as it is very adaptable to a variety of conditions.
In the wild, Vitis californica is native to southwestern Oregon and California. In riparian woodlands, canyons and forests, it scrambles up trees such as oaks, cottonwoods, bays, or buckeyes. Although a beautiful sight, valley oaks and cottonwoods may succumb if the vine climbs into the upper canopy and smothers the foliage. It is often found near river and creek beds where moisture is available most of the year, although, as with many natives, these vines exhibit quite a bit of drought tolerance.
Although this native grape is suited to wild environments, it can be a wonderful addition to the home garden—if there is space for it. ‘Roger’s Red’ can quickly cover a trellis, arbor, or tree in just a few years. Over an arbor, it creates fairly dense shade in the summer.
This plant will grace a home garden with beauty year round. Bright green spring growth and the gray-green summer color make it a pleasing garden companion. Then in autumn, the vine really shines with purple grape clusters dangling against the blazing orange, red, and plum foliage. After the first few years, the gnarly, twisted trunk and branches provide an architectural winter scene.
Now for the caveats. As with any deciduous vine, clean up of autumn leaf drop can be a chore, especially if the vine is near flower beds. If grapes are not harvested or birds do not feast on all of them, dried clusters will drop and hundreds of volunteers may sprout the following spring. It is a tedious chore pulling up the little volunteer seedlings. Removing all grapes before they ripen prevents any self-sowing.
Don’t forget that this is an aggressive vine. Vines are likely to wander off a trellis or other support and reach out to neighboring structures or trees. Continued vigilance is needed to keep it in bounds. And ‘Roger’s Red’ is subject to the usual diseases of grapes, such as fungal problems and mites. In spite of the few negatives, the vine is fairly trouble-free.
Noted horticulturalist, Roger Raiche, the namesake of ‘Roger’s Red,’ was generous enough to discuss the origins and recent developments of the lineage of the vine. He revealed that it is “now considered to be a hybrid between V. californica, the California grape, and a European grape (V. vinifera) cultivar called ‘Alicante Bouschet,’ a deep red-fruited (pulp, skin and juice) grape grown widely in the last century in Sonoma and many other counties.