Plant of the Week
Red-flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum)
By Russ Holmes
Red-flowering currant is in the Grossulariaceae (Gooseberry Family) which contains only 1 genus, Ribes, and approximately 120 species. Ribes is distributed across the northern hemisphere and in temperate South America. Some species are cultivated for food. Others have ornamental value, including red-flowering currant. More than a dozen cultivars and hybrids of red-flowering currant are available from retail nurseries. David Douglas reportedly first brought it into cultivation in the early 1800s.
Red-flowering currant is a deciduous shrub typically 1-3 m (3.2-9.8 feet) tall. Leaves are 2-7 cm (0.8-2.8 inches) long with five palmate lobes. Light to dark rose, rarely white, flowers are produced in the early spring in attractive 3-7 cm (1.2-2.8 inch) long nodding clusters (racemes) at the same time the leaves are emerging. Each flower is 5-10 mm (0.2-0.4 inches) long and has five petals. Dark purple berries 6-10 cm (2.4-3.9 inches) in diameter are produced in early to mid summer.
Distribution is restricted to western North America from southwest British Columbia south through Washington, Idaho, and Oregon to California. It is a shade intolerant species occurring in early seral and open canopy Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) forests in well-drained soils from sea level to approximately 1800 meters (6000 feet). It readily sprouts from seed and root crowns after fire.
Many wildlife species use red-flowering currant. Hummingbirds and butterflies use the early spring nectar; leaves provide forage for the larvae of moths and butterflies and occasional browse for deer and elk. Branches provide nesting habitat for songbirds and cover for small mammals. Birds and small mammals also consume the berries for food. Humans use the tart berries for jams, pies, juice and syrup. Native Americans ate the berries fresh or dried.