The Ribes plant family is a small but delicious group that includes currants and gooseberries.
Botanically, Ribes is a genus (which is why it is italicized). The family name is Grossulariaceae, but Ribes is the only member of that family, so we will overlook that technicality. Ribes are native to the Northern Hemisphere.
This pair of edibles is an interesting mash-up of characteristics. Gooseberries have thorny exteriors but tend to be well-behaved and undemanding. Currants, on the other hand, may look docile and approachable, but these plants defy description and can bring serious problems to a region. In fact, there are laws against growing Ribes in some regions!
The Ribes family was banned in 1920. [I told you they were scoundrels!]
This ban was put in place because Ribes can host white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola). This fungal disease has been devastating to East Coast white pines. Don’t worry, though. That ban was partially lifted in 1966, as resistant cultivars were developed. If you live in New Hampshire, North Carolina, or West Virginia, you are still not allowed to grow Ribes plants, as far as I know. If you live in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, or Delaware, you’ll need a permit.
Now, we’re not talking about those tiny raisins made from Corinth grapes when we say currants. Currants are small red, black, or white berries that grow in clusters. Scientists are still wrestling with this group, which defies classification. You can read more about that in my post on currants.
Gooseberry plants have spiny stems and branches, making them tricky to work with. Since branches only produce fruit in a single season, removing heavily laden stems makes them easier to work with, plus it lets light in for new branches to grow. You can find sweet dessert varieties and tart culinary varieties. Gooseberries can be green, white, yellow, or reddish-purple.
Ribes pests and diseases
Aphids, brown marmorated stinkbugs, clearwing moth larvae, currant borers, gooseberry fruitworms, gooseberry sawflies (Nematus ribesii), also known as currant sawflies, mites, imported currantworms, and the larva of some moths and butterflies are common Ribes pests. And birds.
Problems are more commonly caused by mineral imbalances in the soil or improper irrigation. These plants are susceptible to several fungal diseases, such as American gooseberry mildew, anthracnose, currant cane blight, gray mold, leaf spot, powdery mildew, rust, and septoria leaf spot. Avoid overhead watering and be sure to provide good drainage.
Ribes grow best in cool, moist surroundings with good drainage, but partial shade and regular irrigation make them possible elsewhere. These plants can be grown in containers and are self-pollinating. Ribes take well to regular pruning, making them excellent patio or balcony plants, and renewal pruning each winter keeps them healthy and productive.
Ribes berries are delicious and their flowers provide nectar and pollen to a wide variety of butterflies.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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