American Black Currant is a small erect native perennial shrub growing to 6 feet tall with multiple stems that do not have prickles. There are round yellow shiny glands on most of the leafy parts but found on the stems also. At Eloise Butler, it is primarily found along the moist stream banks of the Woodland Garden. Bark on older stems is brownish with gray patches.
The leaves are alternate and have a somewhat rounded shape and are roughly toothed with three to five lobes and all the main veins radiating from the base, resembling a maple leaf. Lobes are cleft almost half way to the mid-rib. The upper surface is usually smooth but with glands, the underside is slightly hairy, mostly along the veins, and resin-dotted with yellow glands. Glands are not stalked and most noticeable on the underside. Leaf stalks are equal to or shorter than the leaf blade and may have some hair. Fall color is a very nice red which begins with subtle coloring of the veins and the leaf margin.
The inflorescence is a spreading to pendent raceme of 6 to 15 stalked flowers, evenly spaced along the raceme stalk which is finely hairy.
The flowers have a tube-like green calyx with five greenish-white sepals that are broad, do not overlap and have rounded tips that reflex. It is the sepals that you see that look like petals. The actual petals are whitish, smaller, erect, oblong, touching each other, but not fused together, forming a cylindric structure inside the tube opening. The stamens are almost as long as the petals, with oval cream colored anthers and are placed alternate with the petals and tight against them, not touching the two styles in the center. Flower stalks are jointed (part remains after the fruit drops).
Fruit: Flowers are pollinated by insects. Fertile flowers develop into an ovoid smooth berry 10 mm wide (3/8 inch), with a thin skin, and containing many seeds, that turns from green to red and finally to black. It is edible when cooked.
Habitat: American Black Current has a rhizomatous root system and grows in swamps, along stream edges, in wet meadows and open woods. It is quite tolerant of moist soil, prefers full sun but will flower and fruit in partial shade. The plant does not sucker but will form thickets via the underground stems.
Names: The genus Ribes is derived from the Syrian or Persian word ribas which means 'acid tasting'. The species americanum is for 'of America'. The author name for the plant classification - "Mill." is for Philip Miller, Scottish botanist (1691-1771) who was chief gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden and wrote The Gardener's Dictionary. In older times the plant was known as R. floridum.
Comparisons: The Currants of the Ribes genus that are found in Minnesota are usually distinguished from the Gooseberries of the same genus by the lack of prickles. Compare to Prickly Gooseberry, R. cynosbati; or Missouri Gooseberry, R. missouriense, both of which are in Minnesota. R. americanum does not have a skunk-like odor like R. hudsonianum, the Northern Black Currant, also in Minnesota, and does not have the small red fruit of the Garden Current, R. rubrum. Ribes are the alternate host to white pine blister rust, therefore planting may be prohibited, or at least ill-advised, in certain areas.
Above: 1st & 2nd photos - Flowers of early May. The inflorescence is a pendent raceme of stalked flowers. 3rd photo - The stamens are tight up against the edges of the petals. The sepals have spread and curved backward.
Below: 1st photo - Twigs are without prickles, but usually ridged - more twig photos below. 2nd photo - the leaf with 3 to 5 lobes resembles a maple leaf. 3rd photo - The underside of the leaf showing the yellow oil glands and hair on the leaf veins.
Below: Fall leaf color. 1st photo - color begins with the edges and the veins turning red. Eloise Butler wrote in 1915: "The foliage of the black currant is rimmed and streaked with red". 2nd photo - Full red fall color.
Below: Fruit Development: From Green to Black - with the intermediate stages shown in the 2nd photo.
Below: 1st photo - twigs can have a reddish brown color in early spring - note the ridges. 2nd photo - older stems are more brownish-red with gray areas.
Notes: American Black Current is indigenous to the Garden area. Eloise Butler catalogued it on April 29, 1907. In her day the plant was usually listed as Ribes floridum. Black Currant was also listed on Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time. It is native to much of Minnesota, absent in only a few scattered counties. In North America it is found in Canada from Alberta eastward and in the U.S. from the Rocky Mountains eastward to the coast, as far south as Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky and Virginia. It is one of 10 species of Ribes found in Minnesota in addition to the cultivated Garden Red Currant Ribes rubrum.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"