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Gardening in the Rainy Zone.
RED FLOWERING CURRANT, WINTER CURRANT, BLOOD CURRANT, OREGON CURRANT, INCENSE SHRUB
Pronounced: RyE-bees sang-GWIN-ee-um
British Columbia, California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
Sunset zones: 4-9, 14-24, A3.
USDA zones: 6-8.
Heat zones: 8-6.
Height: 5-12 feet (1.5-3.6 m).
Width: 5-12 feet (1.5-3.6 m).
Late winter to early spring.
Pendant or erect racemes of 10-20 tubular, dark pink to red flowers followed by insipid, glaucous, blue-black berries.
Deciduous, maple-like, 3-5-lobed, green leaves, 2-4 inches across, alternately arranged on stems.
Full sun to partial shade.
Moist to dry, well-drained soil.
Sow seed as soon as ripe in autumn. Place in cold frame over winter.
Semi-ripe cuttings in July.
Take hardwood cuttings in fall and winter.
Pests and Diseases:
Mostly disease resistant; however, all ribes can harbor white pine blister rust, so growing near pines is not recommended. Susceptible to honey fungus.
Rainy Side Notes
Being spineless isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially when describing a plant. Having two other spiny ribes in the garden, I appreciate one with no prickles to impale my skin. Nevertheless, being gardener-friendly isn't the only reason I appreciate our native red flowering currant. It's one of the showier of the ribes, blooming in late winter when I am tired of rain and gray, cold days. Their bright red flowers are standouts in the landscape; if you stand close to them for more than a few minutes, you'll see the hummingbirds taking advantage of the nectar laden, tubular blossoms.
The fruit is not very palatable. Although they would work as survival food, you will need to be very hungry before you will want to chew on these berries without spitting them out in disgust.
Being a Western native, this shrub is quite drought tolerant. It grows mainly on dry soils and disturbed sites, but can take a variety of soil conditions, from rocky to humus rich earth, as long as its well-drained. Utilized for erosion control on slopes, it has an added benefit of deer-resistance.
Ribes comes from the Arabic word ribas, which means acid-tasting (fruit). Sanguineum which comes from the Latin word sanguineus, means blood-red.
This erect, multi-stemmed shrub has a rich history with the who's who in the botanical world. Supposedly the first European to see the plant is Scotsman Archibald Menzies during a long voyage to the new world with Captain George Vancouver, in 1793. Later in 1817, plant explorer David Douglas brought seed back from the Pacific Northwest region and introduced it to England, where it became quite popular. Many hybrids came out of breeding work done in Europe, which we enjoy in our gardens today. R. 'King Edwards' is the most well known and grown.
Ribes sanguineum is an important early food source for the returning ruby-throated Rufous hummingbirds and resident Annas. It also provides nectar for butterflies, bees and beneficial insects. The leaves provide food for some species of butterfly larvae.
Quite a number of birds relish the fruit: cedar waxwings, grouse, jays, pheasants, robins, sparrows, thrushes, towhees, and woodpeckers. Mammals such as chipmunks, coyotes, foxes, mountain beavers, raccoon, skunks and squirrels also utilize the berries.
Children will eat just about anything; the Chehalis and Squaxin children prove it to be true by eating the berries fresh. I don't know how the adults managed it. Perhaps it's an acquired taste, but the people from the Hoh, Klallam, Quileute, Skagit, and Thompson ate the berries fresh off the shrub. The Quileute stewed the fruit before eating and the Salish boiled, then dried the berries and made them into cakes for winter use. The Thompson dried the berries and used them as flavoring for soups.
Photographed in author's garden.