Over 400 years old, with a trunk span of at least 2 feet, reaching 60 feet into the air, and sprawling across 1/2 acre, this Scuppernong vine (which is a variety of muscadine) is ripe not only with grapes, but with folklore. Believed by many to be the “mother” of all Scuppernong vines, as well as the oldest living grapevine in NC, and with that kind of size, it’s not a far stretch of imagination to embellish the history, as not only the vine itself is an amazing and fascinating subject, but its’ location on historical Roanoke Island, between the mainland and some of our Outer Banks also adds to the legends surrounding it. One source even mentions a bridge from Hatteras to Ocracoke built from grapevines!
Although documented history of the vine does not actually begin until the 1720s, the vine was first reported in 1584 by Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe while on an expedition for Sir Walter Raleigh. Much mystery surrounds its’ existence at this time, as it’s believed by some to have been maintained by the Algonquian Indians for a food source, and by others, it is believed to have been used for fermenting by the Croatoans. Whichever it was, it was definitely a cultivated vine, and in 1909, horticulturalist F. C. Reimer reported that the vine was actually 5 vines, planted in 2 rows. The horticulturalist also determined that although the Mothervine is definitely a very, very old vine, it is not the oldest in NC. That honor is actually held by vines in Tyrrell County.
In 2010, the vine suffered serious injury when, in treating for a lone vine climbing a power pole, the local power company sprayed Garlon, an herbicide specifically not to be used to grapevines. Jack Wilson, the current owner of the property, began pruning the dying vines, but finally sought advice from North Carolina State University, who in turn sent a known expert in grapevines, Mr Hawkins. Mr. Hawkins instituted a rigorous schedule of watering, pruning, and applying fertilizer. This schedule was in hopes of encouraging rapid growth to outgrow the effects of the Garlon, and was effective. The Mothervine is back to being a fine,healthy, vigorous vine, and precautions are taken to avoid this type of accident ever occurring again.
A brief history of the vine..
Whatever and however this massive vine came to be, it’s documented history actually begins in the 1720s, when Peter Baum of New Bern rec’d a land grant. After paying the arrears on his rent, he became the first in a line of Baums to own the Mothervine land. Mahala Baum married Chauncey Meekins, and the title passed to Mr. Meekins in 1869. Then in 1957, Jack and Estelle Wilson purchased the property.
In 2005, Rose Hill became the home of a new vineyard, and all the plantings were of the original Mothervine on Roanoke Island.
To learn more about the Mothervine, a few links are provided below: