Ribes rubrum ‘Red Lake’

Eric La Fountaine took today’s Botany Photo of the Day in our food garden. Douglas Justice and Steve Coughlin co-wrote the entry.

Ribes is a genus of about 150 deciduous flowering shrubby species—the currants and gooseberries—which are primarily native to temperate areas in the Northern Hemisphere, with a few species occurring in South America. Gooseberries are differentiated from currants on account of their spiny stems and often larger fruit. Though they have acquired a measure of notoriety as hosts for the dreaded white pine blister rust (their cultivation actually remains prohibited in some U.S. states), Ribes species—red and black currants in particular—nevertheless have a rich and diverse history as raw materials for human pleasure and practice: the plants have been grown as ornamentals, and they have been used as astringents, as treatments for rheumatism and fever, and as antidotes for digestive, kidney, and hormonal problems as well. Interestingly, the common designator, "currant," is actually a misnomer, and is thought to have derived from a historical mutation of the Anglo-Norman French "raisins de Corauntz" (grapes of Corinth): the dried fruits of Ribes are easily mistaken for the tiny raisins that were famously exported throughout Europe from the Greek city of that name.

Ribes rubrum (red currant) cultivars, which can grow to a height of nearly 2 metres with a spread of almost 3 metres, were first produced in large quantities in France and Belgium in the 17th century. This rugged species is hardy to zone 6 and enjoys loamy soil combined with either full sun or partial shade. The plants need good air circulation in order to overcome their susceptibility to mildew. The small, pendulous flowers of 'Red Lake', which bloom in late July, are a somewhat unimpressive green-yellow, but they soon enough develop into the sour, fibrous, and vitamin C-rich red berries that are used in preserves, puddings, and pies. Of course, humans are not alone in their appreciation of this sapid little fruit. Birds of all kinds love the berries, and they therefore lay vigorous siege to the plants in order to reap this tart reward. Depending on where Ribes is sited and for what purpose it is grown, this siege can be either to the gardener’s delight or to her despair.

Ribes rubrum

14 responses to “Ribes rubrum ‘Red Lake’”

  1. Connie

    We had one of these planted by the outhouse door in Northern Illinois- South Barrington, to be exact- where I grew up. By the time I came along, there was indoor plumbing, so the outhouse was only used by us kids when we were playing and too busy to go indoors. The currants were neglected by the adults, but bore a heavy crop each late-summer. We had to race the birds for them.

  2. mtn_laurel

    Mmmm … homemade current wine. That’s the taste of late summer evenings to me, those last couple of weeks when it’s still warm enough to sit outside & watch the bats after sunset, but you can tell things are slipping toward autumn.
    Gooseberries, on the other hand, are just annoying – ours always got ate by ants, for some reason.

  3. mtn_laurel

    Actually, now that I think about it … we always got our currents from wild plants in the woods, that I guess I assumed were native (to NW Washington State). They’re big & leggy, with clusters of dark blue berries – I wonder if they’re actually related to the domestic cultivars or just called currents?

  4. Eric La Fountaine

    There are several species of Ribes native to Washington state. I don’t know them well enough to guess which you encountered. Ribes profile from USDA

  5. Tree Zed

    We have red currant and black currant bushes (and used to have white, as well). It seems as though every year is a “bumper crop” year as they produce so many berries that it doesn’t even seem to matter that the birds eat some. All three types produce wonderful berries, but I must admit my favourite to eat is the black currants.
    Lovely write-up.

  6. Tom Wheeler

    Ah! Red currants; black currants! Red currant ‘Red Lake’ is a 1933 product of the Minnesota Fruit Breeding Farm bred by W. Alderman. It’s pedigree is unknown. ‘Red Lake’ s considered to be an excellent choice for commercial and home production. Current and historical centers of currant research include Latvia, Slovakia, probably Germany and the Netherlands, the Pacific Northwest and Prince George(1950s)—my old hometown (1956-1964).
    Mention was made of white pine blister rust of which there are also probable alternate hosts other than Ribes. Resistant cultivars can be found. Mention must also be made of powdery mildew. Again, resistant cultivars can be found. Sawfly can be a formidable perennial problem in some areas. In Vancouver, sawfly is more problematic for cultivated gooseberries– Ribes uvacrispa (in Europe) and Ribes hirtellum (in North America)– growers. If my memory is correct!
    Thanks for the origin of the word currant. You’ve cleared up my wonderment.
    The red currant photo’d is trained as a single upright cordon. Double cordons also work to save space. Of course, the bush is the most natural option.
    High vitamin C in red currant fruit is related to many factors including cultivar choice. However, northern latitudes and colder (latitude-wise) summers mean higher vitamin C content. Freezer storage of currants reduces vitamin C content by up to 20% (Kampuse 2005).
    As a result of a conversation horticulturists and I were having, on our way to coffee, with regard to white vegetables and fruits my mind drifted to…. So let me put a word in for white currants (Heaven knows why!) and pink currants (which I did not research). White currant skins lack the cyanadin glycosides {CG} found in red currants. Pink currants contain some CG. Factoid: white currants are an ingredient in baby food in Germany and Slovakia.
    If any one wants a list of hypothetically available white currant cultivars please ask.

  7. Annie Morgan

    Oh yum. And such interesting postings, as well as the original write-up.

  8. bob 2

    Great picture and the follow up text is excellent.
    These are topics that are evasive and difficult to get decent informaion.
    Thanks to all for the work.
    Book marked and screen scrapped.

  9. Janet A.

    Oh, the memories relating to currants! My dad had planted two rows of black currant bushes in our large garden on the high desert. Mom made wonderful currant jelly, and my brother and I loved to eat them right off the bush. Our kittens would hide in the shade of the bushes. Unfortunately, as the years went by, we didn’t always water (needed for more important things!) or fertilize the bushes properly, so by the time I was grown they were no longer producing. How I would love to taste a just-picked currant again!

  10. Wendy

    Don’t forget the wonderful scent of Black Currant leaves!

  11. elizabeth a airhart

    He saw us not-though distant but few steps
    For he was busy,dealing, from a store
    Upon a broad leaf carried choicest strings
    Of red ripe currents- wordsworth
    grand mothers wines were home made
    served in wee glasses knock you
    right out your rocking chair
    big thank you to one and all

  12. Cambree

    I always loved how they look, until I tasted one and it was so sour! Maybe I need to try the black currents.
    Great photo and good info. thanks 🙂

  13. ingrid

    Lovely to see these and for the write-up & comments. I lived on red currants every Summer as a child 30+ years’ ago as, being diabetic I was ‘allowed’ to eat copious amounts without counting carbohydrates, unlike other soft fruit. I was a little jealous watching my siblings devour strawberries, raspberries etc. but I did develop a love for red currants.
    NB I like that your hypothetical gardener is female!!

  14. Alexander Jablanczy

    I used to eat ribizli in Hungary as a child and I knew that you had to wait until they turned dark red or black or at least maroon like almost all berries. It was a bit tart with a zing to it, when green or white of course it would be bitter. Same as the famous blackberries on the seashore of Vancouver beaches which are simply the tastiest biggest juiciest berries on the planet.
    But you have to be patient and wait until they ripen in say late August. Whenever I am there I head for the beach and am amazed that no one else is nibbling the best food in Vancouver.

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