Sunday | December 17, 2017
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Muscadine grapes — doable on Big Island?

Aloha, Nick. Can muscadine grapes grow at low elevations in Hawaii? We live fairly near the ocean in Hawaiian Paradise Park. I have read varieties from the Southeast U.S. have a low chilling requirement. If they can grow here, any idea of where they can be purchased locally? Mahalo, Ron

The muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia) is an interesting fruit in that it is native to the Southeast. They were discovered by early colonists and have been cultivated ever since.

The Native Americans preserved muscadines as dried fruit long before the Europeans came to the continent.

As early as 1565, Capt. John Hawkins reported that the Spanish settlements in Florida made large quantities of muscadine wine.

Muscadines are vigorous, deciduous vines growing 60-100 feet in the wild.

As with all grapes, muscadines need full sun with good air circulation. They will grow satisfactorily in California and the warmer regions of Oregon and Washington.

Compared to other grapes, they are relatively tolerant to diseases, and therefore, a favorite of backyard growers since minimal spraying is required. Fresh muscadine grapes are good to eat but are seedy with a somewhat tough skin.

They are best when made into jellies, jams and juices. The grapes also make an excellent dessert wine with a flavor reminiscent of muscat wines.

Even though the muscadine grape has a low chill requirement, 200 to 600 hours, I doubt they will do well on the Hawaiian Islands, except perhaps at higher elevations. The vine will grow, but most likely produce few fruit. I would not plant any acreage of the muscadine, but if you are truly a fan of the grape, go ahead and invest in one or two vines. I know of no local suppliers, but Paradise Plants in Hilo sells other deciduous fruit trees around January/February.

If you order from the mainland, here are a couple sources of the vine that are on the East Coast:

— Bottom’s Nursery, Ga., (770) 884-5661

— Duplin Nursery, N.C., (910) 289-2233.

If you are successful with the grapes, let me know, and I’ll send you a recipe for North Carolina Muscadine Dump Cake.

Note: The chilling requirement is the number of hours below 45 degrees; this is the number that must be met in order to produce a reasonable crop.


Recently readers may have noticed rather large moths resting under the eaves of the lanai. This sizeable critter is known as the Black Witch moth, Ascalapha odorata. It is called Mah-Ha-Na in Mayan meaning “May I borrow your house?”

The wings are dark brown, and both pairs are crossed by a series of alternating light and dark undulating bands. There is often an iridescent blue cast over the wings. Females have pinkish-white bands across the middle of both wings, whereas the males lack these pale bands.

The moth, with a wingspan that can reach 7 inches, often flies great distances in only a few nights, hiding by day wherever it can find dense shade — frequently under the eaves of houses.

Other than Hawaii, they are common in the Caribbean, South and Central America. They migrate into the U.S. and southern Canada in the summer. They live in the tropical and subtropical forests where trees of the pea family grow. These trees include acacias, albizia, cassia and samanea (monkeypod). The caterpillars feed on the foliage of these trees.

While the moth usually flies during the summer season, in the South and in Hawaii they are also known to fly on Halloween — hence the name Black Witch moth.

Hilo resident Nick Sakovich is a professor emeritus of the University of California. He has worked in the field of agriculture for 30 years. Email your questions to Sakovich at


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