The thick twisted stem lying here is not a fallen tree or a root, but the vine of a Riverbank Grape (Vitis riparia). Such vines will climb trees and wind their way through the tree canopy, tangling with the tree’s branches. By climbing on trees, vines such as grape, Virginia Creeper and even Poison Ivy can save energy by relying on other species to provide the “scaffolding” on which they grow. Amazingly, up in the tree canopy high above your head, the crown of the grape vine may be as large as that of the support tree. It may even kill its host by blocking all the light or being so heavy that it causes branches to break. The fruits of the wild grape, like those of its domesticated cousins, are edible and provide an important food source for a number of wildlife species. Even foxes and coyotes will enjoy a vegetarian feast of wild grapes if they can reach them. In fall look for tell-tale purple stains and masses of grape seeds in the droppings of birds and beasts. Jams and jellies are human uses for the fruit of this vine, and the young leaves can be used to wrap food.
If you look about 12m to your right you will see another important fruit tree. Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) has a dark flaky bark that looks a bit like burnt cornflakes. Like the wild grapes, the wild black cherries are much smaller than the fruit of the domestic varieties. Young Black Cherry trees need plenty of light; they grow best in gaps in the forest canopy. For this reason, the species, although widespread in the forest of southern Ontario, is usually more abundant in sites with a history of logging that has created openings.