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Wisconsin Plant of the Week

Ribes americanum Mill.

Grossulariaceae (Gooseberry Family)

Common Name:

wild black currant

05/21/2001

The Gooseberry Family in Wisconsin is represented by the single genus, Ribes -- the currants and gooseberries. We have about 12 species that grow in a variety of habitats.  Wild black currant is one of the least specialized and grows just about everywhere from dry woodlands to swamps and marshes throughout the state.

All Ribes are small shrubs with alternate, palmately veined and lobes leaves.  The flowers form in the leaf axils, with 5 sepals that are longer than and nearly hide the 5 petals, and 5 stamens. Some species, like R. americanum, are alternate hosts of the destructive fungus, white pine blister rust.

Wild black currant is native, blooms from late April to early June and has black fruit thatís a favorite of birds, small mammals and humans.  Its yellow flowers, 7 to 10 mm long, grow in drooping clusters of a least 5. The leafy bract at the base of each flower is longer than the stalk that attaches the flower to the stem (pedicel). Even plants without flowers can be distinguished from other Ribes since R. americanum has no thorns or spines and the underside of each leaf has golden globular dots of resin visible with a hand lens.

White pine blister rust, which doesnít harm Ribes, was introduced to the US in the late 1800s when infected white pine (Pinus strobus) nursery stock was imported from Europe.  The imports came after the lumber industry lobbied congress to reduce import taxes in order to more easily replant the depleted white pine stands of eastern North America. Native European white pines (P. cembra) are resistant to the fungus. The nonresistant white pines we imported, however, were P. strobus, the North American species originally imported to Europe from North America after European settlement.

  • Origin of the name: Ribes, from the Persian word for acid-tasting; americanum, L., from the Americas
  • Range:  Nova Scotia w. to Alberta, s. to CO, IA, VA
  • WI Range:  Statewide
  • Common associates: many species from sugar maple in upland woods to lake sedge in wet sedge meadows
  • Wetland Indicator Status: FACW
  • Coefficient of Conservatism: C = 7 (S&W), C = 6 (MI)
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