Gooseberry family (Grossulariaceae)
This shrub is 3-7' tall, developing multiple woody stems from its base
that are erect, ascending, or slightly arching. The woody stems are
mostly dark brown and relatively smooth with scattered white lenticels
(air pores). Sometimes, on older shrubs, the woody stems have bark that
is gray and more rough-textured. Along these stems, short spur-shoots
occur that are woody and brown when they are mature, otherwise they are
green or a combination of both. The woody stems become immature
shoots toward their tips during the growing season. Immature shoots are
green, terete (circular in cross-section), and glabrous to
pubescent-hairy. Along the length of immature shoots and immature
spur-shoots are alternate leaves. These leaves are ¾–3" long and
similarly across; they are sharply divided (cleft) into 3 lobes (rarely
5 lobes). These lobes extend to one-third or one-half of the length of
their leaves, and they have bluntly acute tips. The base
of each leaf is rounded or broadly wedge-shaped. In addition to lobes,
the leaf margins often have a few coarse teeth and they are often
ciliate. The upper leaf surface is yellowish green to medium green and
glabrous to sparsely appressed-hairy. The lower leaf surface is light
to medium green and glabrous to sparsely pubescent or hairy along the
primary veins. Leaf venation is palmate. The petioles are ½–1½" long;
they are whitish green to reddish green and glabrous to pubescent.
Short racemes of 3-15 flowers develop from the axils of the leaves.
These racemes and their flowers have a tendency to arch and droop; the
racemes are about 1-3" long. Each flower is about ¾" long and about
one-half as much across. The corolla-like sepals are joined to
together, forming a narrow tubular structure at the base of the flower
and 5 spreading lobes above. The joined sepals are usually bright
yellow, although often greenish yellow toward the base of the flower.
Surrounding the throat of the flower, there are 5 scale-like petals
about 2-3 mm. long. These petals are a little longer than they are
across and more or less erect; they are yellow, orange, or red (often
the latter). In-between the petals, there are 5 short stamens; these
stamens are slightly exserted. The styles of the flower are united
together, forming a knobby cluster of stigmas at their apex. Both the
united styles and clustered stigmas are light green. The jointed pedicels of
the flowers are short (typically ½" or less in length). The blooming
period occurs during late spring, lasting about 3 weeks. The flowers
have a strong fragrance that is clove-like and sweet. Afterwards,
fertile flowers are replaced by berries spanning 8 mm. (1/3")
across; they are globoid in shape and hairless. The berries become
mature later in the summer, at which time they are golden yellow,
orange-red, brown, or black. The edible berries have a fleshy interior,
but they are very seedy. The root system is woody.
The preference is full sun or partial sun and moist to dry-mesic
conditions that are well-drained. A variety of soil types are
tolerated, including those that contain sand, rocky material, and
clay-loam. The amount of flowers and fruits that are produced by this
shrub can vary considerably from year to year. Northern ecotypes of
this shrub are hardy to Zone 3 or Zone 4.
& Habitat: Naturalized populations of
Golden Currant occur
occasionally in NE Illinois, while in the rest of the state it is
uncommon and scattered (see Distribution
Map). Golden Currant was introduced to the eastern
half of the United States as an ornamental shrub and, to a lesser
extent, as a source of fruit. It is native to the Great Plains region,
many areas of the western United States, and parts of southern Canada.
In Illinois, Golden Currant occurs primarily in disturbed sites, such
as roadside embankments, areas along railroads, fence rows, and old
homestead sites. Outside of Illinois, the habitats of this shrub
include cliffs, sandy bluffs, prairies, and thickets. Golden Currant is
still cultivated in gardens, from where it occasionally escapes. At the
present time, it is not considered a significant invasive threat to
natural habitats in Illinois.
attractive flowers are cross-pollinated by Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
(Bertin, 1982), bumblebees, and probably other long-tongued bees. Some
butterflies may visit the flowers as well. Both nectar and pollen are
available as floral rewards to such visitors. Some insects are known to
feed destructively on the sap and other parts of Golden Currant. These
species include several aphids (Aphis mimuli, Aphis
Cryptomyzus ribis, Hyperomyzus lactucae,
ribiellus), San Jose Scale (Diaspidiotus
perniciosus), False San
Jose Scale (Diaspidiotus ostreaeformis), and larvae
canadensis (Currant Fruit Fly); see Blackman & Eastop
Hottes & Frison (1931), and the EPPO Global Database (2016).
berries of Golden Currant are attractive sources of food to some birds
and mammals. This includes such bird species as the American Robin,
Catbird, Brown Thrasher, and Cedar Waxwing, and such mammals as the Red
Fox, Raccoon, Striped Skunk, Eastern Chipmunk, Red Squirrel, Deer
Mouse, Meadow Vole, and White-footed Mouse (Martin et al., 1951/1961;
Barnes, 1999). Small rodents often eat the seeds of the berries, but
some seeds survive in caches because rodents don't always survive
the winter. Both birds and mammals spread the seeds of the berries to
new locations. The foliage and stems of this shrub may be browsed
occasionally by White-tailed Deer.
A garden in Urbana, Illinois.
Golden Currant (Ribes aureum), also called Buffalo
Currant, can be
distinguished from other currant and gooseberry species (Ribes
Illinois by its large yellow flowers and their strong fragrance. Unlike
gooseberry species, Golden Currant lack prickles and spines, and the
pedicels (basal stalklets) of its flowers are jointed. It shares these
latter characteristics with other currant species within the
state. Three different varieties of Golden Currant have been described:
Ribes aureum aureum, Ribes aureum
gracilis, and Ribes aureum villosum.
In Illinois, Ribes aureum villosum is the variety
of Golden Currant
that is usually cultivated and naturalized. This is because its flowers
are somewhat larger in size and showier. Sometimes this variety of
Golden Currant is referred to as Ribes odoratum.
The berries of Golden
Currant have been used to make jam, jelly, and less often pie.