Prickly Gooseberry is a native woody shrub and is the most common wild gooseberry.
Stems: The plant forms a roundish bush up to 4 feet tall, stems branch infrequently. The stems may have prickles also, especially the new growth and old growth at the stem nodes. Some reddish color thorns near stem nodes are longer than the brownish 1/4 inch thorns on the major branches. Old wood at the top of the plant may be devoid of spines.
Leaves are palmately lobed, 3 to 5 indented lobes and a heart-shaped base. Lobes are cleft 1/3 or more toward the mid-rib. The leaf stems (petioles) are hairy with tiny short glands. Lower leaf surfaces and edges are hairy. One to three leaves occur in a cluster.
The inflorescence is a cluster of 1 to 3 greenish-yellow flowers arising on hairy stalks from near the leaf axis, occasionally solitary. Flower stalks are not jointed, unlike the currants that are in this same plant family.
Flowers: Each flower has a 4 to 5 lobed tubular calyx whose apex lobes are not overlapping; these lobes spread outward and then reflex. The exterior of the tube has fine hair. Just at the opening are the small whitish petals which are erect. The five stamens are as long as the petals and do not protrude beyond the calyx tube. Anthers are greenish-yellow. At the base of the tube is the green ovary covered with soft prickles.
Fruit: Fertilized flowers produce a 1/3 inch round fruit with scattered soft prickles, which are not an issue in eating the very edible fruit. Green immature fruit turns to a dull reddish color when ripe with the remains of the calyx still attached.
Habitat: Prickly Gooseberry grows in rich soil in open woods, wood edges in full to partial sun. It needs adequate moisture but does not like wet feet. These plants grow in many places in the Woodland Garden of Eloise Butler, including on the back path to the Upland Garden.
Names: An older botanical name for this species is Grossularia cynosbati (L.) Mill. The genus Ribes is derived from the Syrian or Persian word ribas which means 'acid tasting'. The species name, cynosbati, is an old name for Dogberry - the alternate common name of this plant. Its derivation is obscure; however, cyno comes from the Greek kyon, meaning 'dog' and when things are referenced 'as a dog' it usually means, lowly, or inferior and hence we have the 'dogberry' - a berry inferior to other berries, which is what some southern cultures thought but this fruit is well thought-of today. The author name for the plant classification, 'L.' refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.
Comparisons: See Missouri Gooseberry, Ribes missouriense Nutt., where the flowers are different, the fruit does not have the prickles and the leaf base is different. The closest look-alike Ribes are R. tularense, native to California and R. watsonianum, native to Washington and Oregon. both of which have shorter flower stalks but longer stamen filaments. Ribes are the alternate host to white pine blister rust, therefore planting may be prohibited, or at least ill-advised, in certain areas.
Below: The stages of development: 1st photo - open flower (note the very small petals that are alternate to the calyx lobes just where the lobes reflex; 2nd photo - Closed flower calyx covered with fine hair; 3rd photo - leaf and the prickly ovary developing into a fruit. All from late April to early May depending on the season. Note the soft prickles on the flower stems, leaf stems and hard prickles of the branch.
Below: 1st photo - Green fruit May - June. 2nd photo - Bark of a mature stem, devoid of spines.
Below: Mature fruit in July to mid-August. 2nd photo - Shape of a larger lower leaf with palmate indented lobes and a more heart-shaped base.
Notes: Prickly Gooseberry is indigenous to the Garden area. Eloise Butler catalogued it on April 29, 1907. It is native to Minnesota in most counties except the SW, the far NW and the most NE. In North America its range is the eastern half of the country except the gulf coast. In Canada it is found in Ontario and Quebec.
Edible: Fruit is edible right off the plant and made into jams and preserves.
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.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"