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Native alternative(s) for Ribes sanguineum:
Amelanchier Close up of flower and leaves.
Plants that fill a similar niche:
Salvia rosmarinus Rosmarinus officinalis
Acer rubrum Acer rubrum
Phlox subulata Phlox subulata

Flowering Currant Ribes sanguineum

Previously known as:

  • Calobotrya sanguinea
  • Coreosma sanguinea
  • Ribes glutinosum
Phonetic Spelling
ri-BEEZ san-gwin-EE-um
Description

Red Flowering Currant is a medium-sized, deciduous, and multi-stemmed shrub in the Grossulariaceae or currant family that is grown primarily for its early showy spring flowers. It has an upright, arching, rounded habit, and is 5 to 12 feet tall and equally as wide. The flowers are pendulous racemes of white, pink, or red and appear before the foliage. The foliage is matte green with 3 to 5 lobes with irregularly serrate margins and is fragrant when crushed. The fruits are glaucous purple or bluish-black berries.

It is native to the Pacific Northwest of North America.  This plant was first discovered in 1793, and it was later introduced in Great Britain.  It can be found growing in numerous habitats, including forests, woodlands, and in areas where shrubs and small trees make up the landscape. They are typically along the coast on the north-facing slopes. 

The genus name, Ribes, is derived from the Arabic word ribas which was a name of a Syrian rhubarb. The possible connection references the acidic flavor of rhubarb or the similar panicles of the fruits. The epithet, sanguineum, means "blood red" and references the flowers.

Plant in the full sun, in well-drained soil.  It will tolerate shade, but it will not bloom as well.  Once established it will tolerate drought.  This plant can become rangy and may require pruning which is best done after flowering. It is intolerant to humidity and would not do well in the Southeastern United States and is best grown in the Pacific Northwest.

When in bloom, the flowers hang down and cover the stems with 10 to 30 white, pink, to red flowers in each cluster.  The flowers have a spicy fragrance and are favored by hummingbirds, providing early spring nectar. The fruits are enjoyed during the summer by birds and small mammals. 

Use it in the landscape as a filler in a shrub border, or informal screen.  It works well planted as a backdrop to spring bulbs providing a great pop of color coming out of winter.

All Ribes are prohibited in North Carolina at this time due to white pine blister rust. 

Seasons of Interest:

Bloom:  Early Spring                  Foliage: Spring, Summer, and Fall              Fruits: Summer

Quick ID Hints:

  • medium-sized flowering deciduous shrub, 5 to 12 feet tall and wide
  • multi-stemmed, erect, arching, and rounded habit
  • thin orange to red bark that turns brown and peels with age
  • green pubescent stems
  • simple, alternate, 3 to 5 lobed, matte green leaves, irregularly serrate, fragrant when crushed
  • pendulous raceme of white, pink, or cherry red blooms
  • purple to bluish-black glaucous berries 

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: The Red Flowering Currant is somewhat resistant to most insects and diseases including aphids and currant fruit flies. They are susceptible to currant borer and oak root fungus. Female plants are an alternative host for white pine blister rust. 

SECTION .0400 -WHITE PINE BLISTER RUST02 NCAC 48A .0401CURRANT AND GOOSEBERRY PLANTS

 (a) All wild and cultivated currant and gooseberry plants in North Carolina are hereby declared to be dangerous plants and are consequently subject to destruction by the Commissioner of Agriculture or authorized agents wherever found. (b) No person shall knowingly and willfully keep upon his premises any currant or gooseberry plant, or permit such plants to mature seed or otherwise multiply upon his land.

History Note: Authority G.S. 106-65.45; 106-65.46; 106-284.18; 106-420; Eff. January 1, 1985.

VIDEO created by Ryan Contreras for “Landscape Plant Materials I:  Deciduous Hardwoods and Conifers or Landscape Plant Materials II:  Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Elk River Red'
    Red flowers, 8-10'x7'
  • 'King Edward VII'
    Compact, pinkish-red flowers
  • 'Pokey's Pink'
    Light pink flowers
  • 'Pulborough Scarlet'
    Red flowers with white centers
  • 'White Icicle'
    White flowers, blooms early
'Elk River Red', 'King Edward VII', 'Pokey's Pink', 'Pulborough Scarlet', 'White Icicle'
Tags:
#hummingbirds#deciduous#drought tolerant#white flowers#pink flowers#red flowers#fragrant leaves#deciduous shrub#nectar plant#spring flowers#food source wildlife#deer resistant#frost tolerant#blue fruits#spring interest#black fruits#purple fruits#sensory garden#nectar plant early spring#winter flowers#bee friendly#humidity intolerant#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Elk River Red'
    Red flowers, 8-10'x7'
  • 'King Edward VII'
    Compact, pinkish-red flowers
  • 'Pokey's Pink'
    Light pink flowers
  • 'Pulborough Scarlet'
    Red flowers with white centers
  • 'White Icicle'
    White flowers, blooms early
'Elk River Red', 'King Edward VII', 'Pokey's Pink', 'Pulborough Scarlet', 'White Icicle'
Tags:
#hummingbirds#deciduous#drought tolerant#white flowers#pink flowers#red flowers#fragrant leaves#deciduous shrub#nectar plant#spring flowers#food source wildlife#deer resistant#frost tolerant#blue fruits#spring interest#black fruits#purple fruits#sensory garden#nectar plant early spring#winter flowers#bee friendly#humidity intolerant#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Ribes
    Species:
    sanguineum
    Family:
    Grossulariaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The tart fruits of this plant are sometimes used in jams. Native Americans are known to have eaten the fruits of this plant fresh and dried.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Layering
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    British Columbia to Northern California.
    Distribution:
    CA, ID, OR, WA, and British Columbia
    Wildlife Value:
    Bees and hummingbirds are attracted to the nectar in flowers. A host plant for the Hyalophora euryalus moth. Birds and small mammals are attracted to fruits. The shrub serves as a nesting site for birds and small mammals.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Attracts Pollinators
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Wildlife Larval Host
    Wildlife Nesting
    Edibility:
    Fruits are technically edible but better left for the birds.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 5 ft. 0 in. - 12 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 5 ft. 0 in. - 12 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Edible
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Arching
    Erect
    Multi-stemmed
    Rounded
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    Low
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    6-feet-12 feet
    NC Region:
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8a, 8b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Black
    Blue
    Purple/Lavender
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Berry
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruits are purple or blue-black round berries with white bloom or glaucous. They are technically edible but are quite sour. The fruits are 7 to 9 mm long.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Pink
    Red/Burgundy
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Raceme
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Long Bloom Season
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Shape:
    Star
    Tubular
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    In the early spring, the blooms are 1- to 3-inch-long clusters of tiny red, pink, or white star-shaped tubular flowers covering the stems with 10 to 30 flowers in each cluster.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Smooth
    Velvety
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Palmatifid
    Leaf Margin:
    Crenate
    Lobed
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are simple, alternate, 1 to 3-inches long and wide, fragrant with a resinous scent, and have a dark matte green pubescence above, and white tomentose beneath. The leaf margins are irregularly serrate or crenate and have deep veins giving it a wrinkly appearance. The leaves are fragrant when crushed.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Brown
    Dark Gray
    Orange
    Red/Burgundy
    Surface/Attachment:
    Peeling
    Bark Description:
    The bark is thin, orange, or red tinted then turns grayish-brown, and peels as it matures.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Form:
    Straight
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are upright, finely pubescent, and older twigs are dark green.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Naturalized Area
    Landscape Theme:
    Cottage Garden
    Edible Garden
    Garden for the Blind
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Hedge
    Screen/Privacy
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Hummingbirds
    Moths
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought