Wild Currant

There are about 50 species of Ribes in the United States; a good half of those are native to the Pacific Northwest, and of those, a very few are available to local gardeners.

They are a varied lot; it would be possible to find a Ribes suitable for nearly every garden setting. They bloom in a variety and intensity of color and all have berries that, while largely not palatable to humans, are great bird-attracters.

Leaves range from small and gently-lobed to palm-sized that are more sharply shaped, like that of maple; one species is fragrant like cloves and one has an odor described as unpleasantly "skunky"; some have branches that are spineless, while some are aggressively prickly; a few will accept somewhat dry conditions while others will demand wetness.

Some are strikingly beautiful and shaped to warrant a prominent place in a sun-to-dappled-shade part of the garden; others are less tame, with prominent thorns, and so more suited for a wildlife garden or hedgerow, where the berries and thorns create food and protective cover for birds.

ribes

Ribes aureum Golden Currant

Generous clusters of bright yellow flowers with reddish center smelling sweetly of cloves adorn this thornless Ribes in the spring, followed by purplish berries that will make fruit-eating birds happy. Upright to arching branches typically grows 3-6'. Spreads by underground runners, so give it plenty of space or be prepared to prune or contain it in some way. Can grow in partial shade, but this one is truly happier in a sunnier spot. Native east of the Cascades, it is tolerant of heat and cold, but will also thrive in the more temperate west side of the state. Can take drier conditions than some of the other Ribes, but prefers regular water.

ribes

Ribes bracteosum Stink Currant

Ribes bracteosum is commonly called Stink Currant with good reason. The larger more palmate leaves, when crushed, have been compared to the odor of skunk, for better or worse. Flowers are lovely small, greenish cup-shapes with flared petals and sometimes tinged with brownish purple, growing along the length of the flowering stem. Dark blue berries get a range of response as to their edibility, but birds like them. Graceful, open growth to 9' and free of thorns. Found primarily west of the Cascades in wet to boggy woodlands, it is a good habitat plant for the wet spot in the garden. (Photo credit to Clay Antieau).

ribes

Ribes sanguineum Red-flowering Currant

Ribes sanguineum Red-flowering Currant

Red-flowering Currant is the most common Ribes found in gardens and landscapes. The drooping clusters of light to deep pink flowers are one of the first things to bloom here in the Pacific Northwest, happily corresponding to the time when hummingbirds are in migration to their eventual summer breeding grounds. They will happily make a stop in your garden if you have this shrub. The leaves are small, lobed and finely textured, making it attractive shrub even when out of flower. The black berries it produces are best left to the birds, who will appreciate the taste more than you will. Adaptable to sun and partial shade, moist to somewhat dry conditions, this thornless currant grows up to 10'.

There are many cultivars of R. sanguineum available to gardeners: R. sanguineum 'White Icicle' is a white flowering form; at the other end of the spectrum are deep rosy red-flowering varieties, like 'Elk River Red' and 'King Edward VII.'