Ribes rubrum (Garden Red Currant)
|Also known as:||Red Currant, Cultivated Currant|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; disturbed soil; gardens, woods, thickets, old fields, fencerows, vacant lots|
|Bloom season:||April - May|
|Plant height:||2 to 5 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Arching to dangling clusters of 8 to 20 stalked flowers, one or more clusters arising from leaf axils. Flowers are about ¼ inch across, saucer-shaped with 5 inconspicuous, erect, creamy to pinkish petals. Alternating with the petals are 5 stamens with creamy colored, dumbbell-shaped tips (anthers). The calyx cupping the flower is yellowish to greenish, hairless and not glandular, with 5 sepal lobes that are rather petal-like, much larger and showier than the actual petals. Sepals are yellowish to greenish and often tinged pink, broadly egg-shaped and typically rolled under. Between the calyx and flower stalk is a smooth, green ovary. At the base of the flower stalk is a hairless, short, broad, squarish to egg-shaped bract. Flower stalks are up to about ¼ inch long, hairless or minutely hairy but not glandular.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are 1 to 4 inches long, 1¼ to 4½ inches wide, coarsely toothed, straight to heart-shaped at the base, with 3 to 5 primary lobes that may be again shallowly lobed. Veins are prominent and radiate from the base.
The upper surface is hairless or with a few scattered hairs, the lower variously covered in white hairs, more densely so along major veins and may become smooth with age. Leaf stalks are 1 to 2½ inches long, hairless to minutely hairy and may have a few glandular hairs near the base.
New twigs are green, with a mix of glandular and non-glandular hairs, becoming smooth and dark reddish with white lenticels (pores), and the thin outer layer peeling away. Older stems are brownish to gray and lack spines or prickles. Stems are erect to ascending.
The Ribes species consist of both gooseberries and currants. Currants are distinguished by their lack of any spines, prickles or thorns on the stems, which all gooseberries have to some degree, and clusters of 6 or more flowers, where gooseberries have clusters of only 1 to 4 flowers. Garden Red Currant is a European introduction, widely cultivated for its fruit. It does escape cultivation, the seed likely spread by birds that eat the fruit, and is probably under-reported in the state. It most closely resembles the native Swamp Red Currant (Ribes triste), which has similarly shaped flowers that are typically pinkish to purplish, with anthers that are more heart-shaped than dumbbell-shaped, and has scattered glandular hairs on flower stalks, which Garden Red Currant lacks. There are also subtle differences in the leaves, described in some references, but we have not found them to be very reliable characteristics in the field, though we observed Swamp Red Currant leaves are hairier on the upper surface where Garden Red Currant is mostly hairless. Swamp Red Currant also tends to stay short and low to the ground where Garden Red Currant can reach 4 feet or more tall.
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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Garden Red Currant plant, naturalized in a woodland
- garden-grown Garden Red Currant
- glands and hairs on new twigs
- leaf scan
- multiple clusters from the axils
- more flowers
Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in a private garden in Anoka County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?