As I mentioned last week, it did me little good at first when I read new evidence that reported that we could at last be confident that Leif Erikson was the first European to land on the mainland of North America, where he found a place he named Vinland (Wineland) after the grapes which grew there.
You see, when I read the new evidence, namely that “three butternuts” and some “butternut wood” had been found at the Viking base at L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland, I didn’t have a clue what a butternut tree was.
And when the new evidence also mentioned that the butternut was the “white walnut” that grew in New York and Connecticut, I really got confused. During all the years I had spent in the woods as a teenager I had seen plenty of regular English walnut and black walnut trees, but I had neither seen nor heard of a butternut tree.
Naturally, the minute I went to a decent reference on walnut trees I quickly learned how ignorant I was. There are dozens of kinds of walnut trees, and they all look pretty much alike. I had no doubt seen butternut trees, but just didn’t know what they were. Ah well! Live and learn.
As I’m sure you know, Greenland was discovered by Erik the Red, who founded settlements there. Then, much later, his son Leif sailed from Norway to explore the area west of Greenland, where he found Helluland, Markland, and Vinland.
Helluland — flat rock land in Norse — is identified as Baffin Island. Markland — land of trees — is Labrador. However, because grapes do not grow in either of those two places, or on Greenland or Newfoundland, where L’Anse aux Meadows is located, the location of Vinland has always been a puzzle.
However, finding butternuts at L’Anse aux Meadows, suggests a few things: a) L’Anse aux Meadows was simply Leif’s home base. b) He traveled elsewhere from there. c) Somewhere nearby he discovered an area where both grapes and butternut walnuts grew. d) He named that area Vinland.
How far would he have had to sail from Newfoundland to find such a place? Not far. Newfoundland sits in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, and if he could sail 2,300 nautical miles across the North Atlantic to get there, he could certainly have made the easy sail up the Saint Lawrence River, where not only wheat and butternut trees grow, but also where — most important of all — wild grapes are found aplenty.
The scientific name of the grapes found there is Vitis riparia. Here’s a link to a great photograph of them.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f6/Frost_grapes_%28Southeast_Michigan%29.JPG. Go online to this column at: https://www.paysonroundup.com/opinion/columnists/ for easy click-on links.
The minute I saw that photograph and saw the range over which those grapes are located any doubts of where Vinland was located evaporated. They not only grow wild in Connecticut, but I have spent many happy hours harvesting them, both there and up in Brasher Falls, N.Y. — just 14 miles from the Saint Lawrence River! In fact, they grow wild in much of the northeastern United States.
Vinland, then, is simply Leif Erikson’s name for mainland North America.
It’s not impossible, of course, that he might have sailed 1,400 miles down the east coast of America to New York as once believed, but since the grapes after which he named Vinland grow so close to his home base in Newfoundland, he most likely found them along the banks of the Saint Lawrence.