Sand grape is a bushy, sprawling, or trailing vine over rocky streambeds or along gravel bars; it rarely climbs, but it may reach a length of 8 feet; tendrils absent.
Leaves are alternate, simple, 3–4 inches (sometimes to 8 inches) wide, usually broader than long, sometimes shaped like a kidney bean, blade folded upward or trough-shaped to expose the pale green lower surface; basal sinus (the notch where the leaf stem meets the leaf) is very broad and sometimes flattened; margins with large teeth; upper surface light green, smooth; lower surface yellowish green, smooth. Leaf stalk deeply and broadly grooved, striped, green to dark crimson.
Stems, when young, are finely grooved, red, and very leafy at the ends due to the short distance between nodes. Tendrils are mostly absent; when they appear, they are opposite only the uppermost leaves or at tips of flowering or fruiting branches; thin, smooth, crimson. On older growth, the bark is dark cinnamon, growing darker with age, scaling off in broad plates after the second or third year.
Flowering is in May–June. Flowers are yellowish green, minute; male and female flowers in separate clusters on same plant; petals 5, dropping early. Clusters are ½–2 inches long; cluster stalk 1–2 inches long.
Fruit matures in July–August and drops early. Fruit round, black berries, ¼–½ inch broad, sweet, tender, thin-skinned. Berries are often somewhat doubled, as if two berries are grown together. Seeds 3 or 4 per fruit.
Similar species: Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) differs by having the bark of branches and main stem tight (not shredding as in sand grape); tendrils present and simple (not forked); pith is continuous through the nodes. Also, it is critically imperiled in our state; it occurs in low, wet woods and borders of swamps and bayous in southeastern Missouri.