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1280px-Gooseberry-spring

(By: Jonline GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


Season: June to Fall


Urban, Rural or Both: Rural mainly


Gooseberries are in the same Genus as the Currants - the Ribes Genus. I went back and forth whether to put Gooseberries and Currents together in one section, or two separate sections. Some taxonomists put Gooseberry shrubs in a separate Genus from the Currants - the Grossularia. Most taxonomists however still regard Grossularia as a subgenus of Ribes, which, although does still acknowledge there are differences, says they are very similar in most ways. If there were two categories, where to put the Red Currant? Technically the Red Currant is a Gooseberry. Where also to put those that have both common Gooseberry names and Currant names? For instance, the Swamp Black Currant is also known as the Swamp Gooseberry. In the end, I decided the similarities are far greater than the differences and put them together.

So what is the main difference between Gooseberries and Currants? There are basically three. First, the stems of the Gooseberry plants have spines (prickles) on them (well, most of them), while the Currants don't. Second, the Gooseberries have flowers that are in ones to three's from short stems that come from the leaf axils (where the leaf stem meets the branch), while the Currants have racemes (clusters) of many flowers that are usually near the end of the branch. It follows then, that the fruit on the Currants comes in clusters, while with the Gooseberries the fruit comes in ones to groups of three along the branch. The third difference is in the general size of the fruit. Currants are smaller than Gooseberries. Both are at their best cooked, but some of the Gooseberries are very nice and tart fresh. By the way, some don't conform to the differences. For instance, the Swamp Black Currant (Ribes lacustre) has the prickly branches of a Gooseberry, and the multi-flowered clusters of the Currants.

All native Eastern North American Currants and Gooseberries are shrubs that are usually up to five feet (1.5 meters) tall or just slightly more. They can be found growing in a wide variety of places. By water, in woods, in fields and conifer forests. There are many ascending, leaning branches coming from the same general spot in the ground - It does not form a single trunk that branches out above the ground.


Four cautions with the Genus. One: some have thorns or prickly hairs that give painful stabs. Two: many of them are found where Poison Ivy, Western Poison Ivy and Poison Sumac grows, so beware. Three: the Currants with black fruit could be mistaken for the Common Buckthorn berries, which are poisonous. Four: Make sure you don't mistake the deadly poisonous Solanum carolinense (has many names, the Carolina Horsenettle, The Horsenettle, Radical Weed, Sand Brier, Briar, Bull Nettle, Tread-softly, Apple of Sodom, Devil's Tomato and Wild Tomato) for one of the Gooseberries - especially the Missouri Gooseberry or Missouri Currant. Here is the range of the Solanum carolinense from the USDA here, which is most of Eastern North America now.


The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map for all the Ribes Genus in North America here. BONAP map color key here


Recipe search for Currants or Gooseberries on the web here (Google search).


For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Ribes Genus: Currants & Gooseberries page.




Wild Black Currant

Wild Black Currant (Ribes americanum), also called: American Black Currant & Eastern Black Currant. The Wild Black Current is good raw and cooked into jams or pies. Be careful when you look for and find this shrub, as it frequents the same locations as Poison Ivy, Western Poison Ivy and is often near Poison Sumac, as this shrub likes the moist soil of woodlands near water or in wet areas. Whenever I see healthy, happy Poison Ivy, Western Poison Ivy, I look for this shrub around.

Wild Black Currants are found almost everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains except in the deep southern states of the USA. The leaves are alternate on the branch. The flower/berry clusters come from the same spot on the branch as the leaves do. Sometimes, there seems to be one leave coming out from the branch on each spot where the leaf stem meets it, sometimes, there is a small cluster of leaves coming from where the leaves and berries attach to the stem, sometimes there will be a new stem from the attachment point that produces a few alternate leaves. I think what is happening, is that on the young branches (reddish green with a white bloom) only one leaf is produced at each alternate leaf stem attaching point. On the older, woody branches (reddish brown with most bloom gone) where the leafs and flower clusters attach, there is usually a few leaves - but not compound leaves, a few single leaves meeting at the same point on the branch. On very mature branches, there are vertical splits in the bark that peels back in long oval shapes. Even in the older branches, there is still a noticeable bit a whitish bloom on the reddish, brown bark.

To me, the leaves look a little like Maple leaves with three to five lobes. They are a green to yellow-green with a semi-matte, semi-gloss upper surface. What stands out for me with these leaves is how prominent the leaf veins are on the top of the leaf - you really notice them as they are lower than the rest of the upper surface - like tiny river channels. The underside has very small dull yellow to gold dots (glands actually). The dots are on the top of the leaf, but less obvious. The leaves are variable in their margin (edge), some with deeper lobes. On some, the (single or double) sawtooth margins have a rounded appearance, while some are sharper looking. The stems are finely hairy, as are the leaves, mostly noticeable at the margins.

The round, black berries hang in clusters off a single stem, and are about 6-9mm (1/4 to 1/3 inches) in diameter. When the berries are not fully ripe, they have a deep reddish hue to them.

Note: Please make sure you know how to identify the Common Buckthorn berries, as the color, shape and size of the fruit is similar to a fully ripe Wild Black Currant. The leaves do not look the same, and Buckthorns very often (but not always) have a single thorn on the end of a branch. Pictures of the poisonous Buckthorn on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).


Growing this plant in your home garden:

If you find some in the wild, you should have no trouble starting it by seed, cloning or transplanting. You probably would have difficulty finding it at nurseries, as they tend to carry cultivars of the European version of this shrub, the Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum), although some of the cultivars may have this one as one of the ancestors.


Description:


Wild Black Currant (Ribes americanum) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


riam2_001_lvd

Wild Black Currant (Ribes americanum) drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 238.)


Ribes_americanum,_autumn_leaves_1.jpg

Wild Black Currant (Ribes americanum) leaves in fall. (By: Nadiatalent CC BY-SA 3.0)




European Blackcurrant

European Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum). Although native to Europe, this plant has naturalized in parts of North America, so you may find it in the wild. There are many cultivars and crosses with this plant so the description will cover the range.

Note: Please make sure you know how to identify the Common Buckthorn berries, as the color, shape and size of the fruit is similar to a fully ripe Blackcurrant. The leaves do not look the same, and Buckthorns very often (but not always) have a single thorn on the end of a branch. Pictures of the poisonous Buckthorn on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).


Growing this plant in your home garden:

There are many cultivars available at nurseries for this shrub, and you should have no trouble finding one that is selected for your area that is resistant to the White Pine Blister Rust (Cronartium ribicola) as an alternate host. I suggest not making clones from shrubs found in the wild or trying to grow it from seed. It may be one that is not a cultivar resistant to the White Pine Blister Rust, and you would be putting White Pine trees at risk in your local area, plus the leaves of the Blackcurrant would become infected with the rust. Best to buy one of these selected to not be susceptible.


Description:


European Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


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European Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) Illustration. (By: Carl Axel Magnus Lindman)


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European Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum). (By: Rasbak GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


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European Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) flowers and unripe fruit. (By: H. Zell GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


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European Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) ripe fruit and leaves. (By: Jerzy Opioła GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


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European Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) whole plant in field. (By: Thue)




Northern Black Currant

Northern Black Currant. (Ribes hudsonianum). This Currant is bitter tasting, and not worth collecting. Found in shaded, moist highland areas, and shaded areas that are always wet, but rivers, streams, wetlands. The only reason I've included here, is that the fruit looks like one of the Black Currants, and so you should know it to avoid it. Not poisonous as far as I am aware.

I find it odd that this is listed as an edible fruit by some sources. Either the plant is quite variable due to conditions (does happen with some plants), and in some areas it is not awful tasting, or there are subspecies of this one and each has their own taste, or, as I most likely suspect, people get this confused with the "Wild Black Currant", or it could just be that people have never tried some for themselves and copied bad information. Whatever the reason, I won't eat them, they are bitter and poor tasting.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

Don't bother.


Description:


Northern Black Currant. (Ribes hudsonianum) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


rihu_001_lvd

Northern Black Currant. (Ribes hudsonianum) drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 237. )


rihu_002_lvp

Northern Black Currant. (Ribes hudsonianum) in flower. (Joe F. Duft, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1992. Western wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. West Region, Sacramento.)




Red Currant

Red Currant (Ribes triste). Known also as Swamp Red Currant, Wild Red Currant and Northern Red Currant. Often the Red Currant part of the name in any of the names is spelled as one word - Redcurrant. Too sour to eat raw except for a few if you like tart flavors, but can be used for making jams, jellies and for other baking or cooking where fruit is called for. Berries are a bright red to orange tinted red. Shiny, almost translucent appearance - very nice looking berries.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

If you live where the conditions are right, you will have no problem growing this plant. It roots very easily from cut branches, so the best way is to cut some branches that you find in the wild (nip off the very top), put in water in a container to take home and push right in the wet ground. It must stay wet all the time until established, and best to stay wet most or all the time after. Best to do this after the leaves have dropped in the fall or before leaves have come out in the spring.


Description:



Red Currant (Ribes triste) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


ritr_001_lvd

Red Currant (Ribes triste) drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 237.)


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Red Currant (Ribes triste) leaves. (By: Superior National Forest Attribution 2.0 Generic)


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Red Currant (Ribes triste) flowers (By: Superior National Forest Attribution 2.0 Generic)




Swamp Black Currant or Prickly Currant

Swamp Black Currant (Ribes lacustre), also called Swamp Gooseberry, Prickly Currant, Black Gooseberry. This one has the prickles on the branches of a Gooseberry, but the large number of flowers per cluster of a Currant. It has deep lobed leaves, and the stems, branches and berries are covered in sharp, hair like thorns or prickles that can be painful if they stab you when handling the plant. They give the branches a fuzzy, light auburn reddish look when you see them from a distance. Remember, Poison Ivy vines that are climbing other trees and shrubs can have the same auburn reddish fuzzy look, and likes to grow right where these do. The berries, though not poisonous, are dull to nasty tasting and not worth the effort, especially considering the nasty prickles of the plant. Funny thing about these is the reports of how they taste vary quite a bit. Could be local variations - it does happen. In Ontario, they don't taste good at all, and most other reports from Ontario back that up. There is one report on the web that is repeated site, after site, after site, word for word, that the crushed berries smell bad but taste good. I agree with the smell bad part. Berries tend to be in one's or two's - red and green when immature, black and shiny with soft prickles when mature. Just looking at the berry makes you think it's not a good idea to put it in your mouth raw, although some do eat them raw. If you do choose to try eating this one, cook them in some water, then strain them through a sieve after, then use the strained liquid as a base for a jam or jelly. Remember, even after this work, the taste is dull to unpleasant - there definitely are better ones.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

Between the sharp, painful stabs the hair like thorns on the branches can give and the dull to poor taste of the fruit, I cannot see why you would want to grow them, other than the flowers are very nice looking.


Description:


Swamp Black Currant (Ribes lacustre) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


rila_001_lvd

Swamp Black Currant (Ribes lacustre) drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 236.)


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Swamp Black Currant (Ribes lacustre) in flower. Note how the flower clusters hang from branch. (By: Walter Siegmund GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


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Swamp Black Currant (Ribes lacustre) flowers in close. (By: Walter Siegmund GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


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Swamp Black Currant (Ribes lacustre) fruit. Note prickles on fruit. (By: Walter Siegmund GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


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Swamp Black Currant (Ribes lacustre). Note how nasty those prickles are on the branches. This is a hazardous plant to deal with. (By: Walter Siegmund GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)




Skunk Currant

Skunk Currant (Ribes glandulosum). Only the red berries have hairs with this one, and although I have read the berries have been used as food, the taste is poor and they are covered with spiky hairs, you would have to cook and strain them to be rid of the spikes. The name "Skunk Currant" comes from the smell when you crush a leaf. I have read about, but not tasted a light pink to whitish version of this one that supposedly tastes good.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

I'm sure you could, but there are much better choices.


Description:


Skunk Currant (Ribes glandulosum) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


rigl_001_lvd

Skunk Currant (Ribes glandulosum) drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 238.)


rigl_002_lvp

Skunk Currant (Ribes glandulosum) plant in flower. (Mark A. Garland, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)


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Skunk Currant (Ribes glandulosum) leaves. (Mark A. Garland, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)


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Skunk Currant (Ribes glandulosum) flowers up close. (Mark A. Garland, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)




Canadian Gooseberry

Canadian Gooseberry (Ribes oxyacanthoides).

Because this one can be an alternate host for White Pine Blister Rust (Cronartium ribicola), in many places it is rare, as it has been intentionally eradicated. Also, the taste of the fruit raw is not the greatest, but you can eat it. Cooked and made into jams or jellies is about the best thing you can do with it. There are other Gooseberries that are better for this as well though. The most likely places you will find this in Eastern North America are in openings in conifer forests in low areas near water of some kind, rivers, streams, marshlands, etc. It has nasty prickles along the stems, and big thorns right near the leaf axils, so be careful when working around this plant.

When describing the leaves of most plants in the Ribes Genus, I say "maple" leaf like. This one does have the basic 3-5 lobed simple leaf like the others, but the leaf on this plant reminds me more of a common grocery store Geranium leaf. The Geranium with the big compound pink or red flower heads (Pelargonium).


Growing this plant in your home garden:

I suggest not with this one. For one thing it is an alternate host for White Pine Blister Rust (Cronartium ribicola). Also, the fruit, though edible, is not as good as others. Plus, the thorns and prickles are quite sharp and nasty and could injure you while pruning and picking, or injure pets.


Description:


Canadian Gooseberry (Ribes oxyacanthoides) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


grox2_001_lvd

Canadian Gooseberry (Ribes oxyacanthoides) drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 240. )






American Gooseberry

American Gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum). Known also as the Hairy-stem Gooseberry, Hairy Gooseberry, Wedge-leaf Gooseberry, Northern Gooseberry, Swamp Gooseberry, Smooth Gooseberry, Wild Gooseberry. How could it be known as the Hairy Gooseberry and the Smooth Gooseberry? The young twigs can be smooth or with scattered fine hair-like prickles that fall off with the first year bark, leaving a smooth bark.

This is one of the better tasting Gooseberries, raw or cooked, that is native to Eastern North America. And, as a bonus, although the stems are hairy, they do not have the nasty sharp prickles and thorns of the Canadian Gooseberry. If you are gathering from the wild, and are looking for Gooseberries in Northeastern North America, this is the one to look for. Nice snack when fresh, and makes tasty jams, jellies, and pies. Since ripe ones are often green (although can be red-grape red color as well), it is easy to pick a "green" one thinking it is ripe. The taste will be sour, but still edible. They get their sweet/sour combination when they turn ripe. The sour part is the ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which they are very high in. The unripe ones are a darker green, while the riper ones have a yellowish green color. Hard to tell unless you see both on a plant and can compare by tasting.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

Like most members of this Genus, they are fairly easy to clone by cuttings or layering. If you are going to buy from a nursery, the most common Gooseberry you will find will be a cross of this one and the European Ribes uva-crispa.


Description:


American Gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


grhi3_001_lvd

American Gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum) drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 241.)


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American Gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum) leaves. (By: Nadiatalent CC BY-SA 3.0)


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American Gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum) flower. (By: Nadiatalent CC BY-SA 3.0)


Ribes_hirtellum_fruit

American Gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum) (By: Nadiatalent Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)


Ribes_hirtellum fall colors

American Gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum) fall colors. (By: Daderot Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)




Eastern Prickly Gooseberry

Eastern Prickly Gooseberry (Ribes cynosbati). Known also as the Dogberry and Pasture Gooseberry.

If you are in a mixed or conifer forest, or in open land around the same, not right by water, and come across a Gooseberry that is the color of a red Grape, but is covered with soft prickles, while the branches have very few prickles, you probably have this one. Tends to do better in drier areas than most in this Genus, and although the fruit looks dangerous, it is not, and the taste, though not the very best, is not bad at all. Fairly common, so if in the right kinds of areas, expect this to be there.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

Not sure about taking cuttings and putting them in the ground like most damp area loving members of this Genus, but might be worth a try - keep the ground damp until you are sure it took. May be best to do layering with this one and keep the soil damp where the layering is taking place. This may be one to start from seed if you have the patience. There is little chance of finding this one at a nursery.


Description:


Eastern Prickly Gooseberry (Ribes cynosbati) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


grcy_001_lvd

Eastern Prickly Gooseberry (Ribes cynosbati) drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 239.)


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Eastern Prickly Gooseberry (Ribes cynosbati) leaves and young fruit. (By: Nadiatalent CC BY-SA 3.0)


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Eastern Prickly Gooseberry (Ribes cynosbati) leaves beginning to turn to fall colors. (By: Nadiatalent CC BY-SA 3.0)


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Eastern Prickly Gooseberry (Ribes cynosbati) ripe fruit. (By: Nadiatalent CC BY-SA 3.0)




Missouri Gooseberry or Missouri Currant

Missouri Gooseberry or Missouri Currant (Ribes missouriense). Known also as the Missouri currant.

This one is like the Eastern Prickly Gooseberry in that the color, taste and size of the fruit is about the same, the leaves are basically the same, they both like drier areas, but with one reversal. The branches of this one are covered in prickles (that will stab you), while the fruit is free of any prickles, while the Eastern Prickly Gooseberry has few prickles on the branches but the fruit is covered with soft prickles. Odd how two basically similar plants that like the same places came to have inverted strategies, and both survived.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

Not sure about taking cuttings and putting them in the ground like most damp area loving members of this Genus, but might be worth a try - keep the ground damp until you are sure it took. May be best to do layering with this one and keep the soil damp where the layering is taking place. This may be one to start from seed if you have the patience. There is little chance of finding this one at a nursery.


Description:


Missouri Gooseberry or Missouri Currant (Ribes missouriense) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


grmi2_001_lvd

Missouri Gooseberry or Missouri Currant (Ribes missouriense) drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 240.)


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Missouri Gooseberry or Missouri Currant (Ribes missouriense) with immature fruit. (By: Eric in SF CC BY-SA 3.0)




Appalachian Gooseberry

Appalachian Gooseberry (Ribes rotundifolium). This one does not occur where I live or have lived, but I have included it for those that live in, or travel to higher elevations in the Appalachian mountains. I have never tasted this one, so I cannot comment on that aspect, but I have read it is very good. I've just included the facts gathered from many sources to provide a start for those that find them. By the way, if you live in the Appalachians, and want to adopt an old man with many cats, just let me know, as my dream has always been to live in the Appalachian mountains.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

Don't know, but because this one reportedly likes neutral to alkaline soils, this one would be interesting to try in areas that are not normally known for Gooseberries as they normally like slightly acidic soils. All reports say the fruit is very good tasting, so it might be worth the effort to see if it would grow outside its normal range.


Description:


Appalachian Gooseberry (Ribes rotundifolium) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


grro4_001_lvd

Appalachian Gooseberry (Ribes rotundifolium) drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 241.)


Ribes_rotundifolium_233-008

Appalachian Gooseberry (Ribes rotundifolium) leaves and flowers. (By: USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Germplasm Resources Information Network - (GRIN). National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland, mage taken by Danny Dalton)


Ribes_rotundifolium_233-009

Appalachian Gooseberry (Ribes rotundifolium) leaves. (By: USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Germplasm Resources Information Network - (GRIN). National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland, Leaves Collected and scanned by Tyler Young)





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