Raccoon grape is a woody vine climbing by tendrils to a length of 60 feet. The most aggressive native vine in the state, it can smother small- to medium-sized trees.
Leaves are alternate, simple, 2–5 inches long, 2½–4½ inches wide, broadly egg-shaped, base flattened; margins coarsely toothed; upper surface olive-green, rather dull, smooth; lower surface paler, smooth or with a few scattered white hairs, especially on the veins.
Stems, when young, are green, flexible, slightly angular, with ridges extending along the stem from the leaf bases, smooth; older stems gray to light brown, with numerous oval, warty pores; tendrils arise at some nodes, each opposite a leaf, stout, forked at the end. Stems often die back in winter. Bark on older stems is tight, dark brown, deeply grooved, with long ridges that are flat-topped and netted. The pith is white (it is brown in “true” grapes, genus Vitis).
Flowering is in May–July. Flowers greenish, small, in flat-topped loose clusters; petals 5.
Fruit matures in August–November. Fruiting clusters are much broader than long. Fruit ¼ inch across, globe-shaped, changing color as they develop from green to orange to rose-purple and finally to turquoise blue. Fruit not edible. Seeds 1–3 per berry.
Similar species: The closely related peppervine (A. arborea) has leaves that are twice pinnately (feather) compound, or pinnately then ternately (three-times) compound, while raccoon grape’s leaves are either unlobed or palmately 3- or 5-lobed. Raccoon grape might be more easily confused with some of our Vitis species, but its white pith, fewer tendrils, and tight bark help to separate it from them. Also, raccoon grape’s leaves are triangular, while those of Vitis grapes are usually more heart-shaped.