Missouri Gooseberry is a dense, rounded, native deciduous shrub, growing from 2 to 4 feet tall.
Stems are stout, upright spreading, with grayish bark and stout reddish thorns on older branches. The main stem will have numerous shorter brown thorns, many times in groups of 3. New wood is green.
Leaves are alternate, stalked and palmate with 3 to 5 main lobes. The main lobes have minor lobes with a few coarse teeth. The base of the leaf is mostly straight across to somewhat heart shaped, with a hairy stalk.
The inflorescence is either a hanging cluster (a corymb) of two to four stalked flowers, or single flowers that rise from near a leaf axil. The plants are dioecious - that is a plant has either male flowers or female flowers, and both plants must be nearby for pollination to occur.
Flowers are greenish-white with subtended green bracts which have fine hair. Five sepals form the lobed calyx tube, the lobes are hairy and reflex fully when the flower is mature. There are 5 white to pinkish petals that occur in the throat of the calyx tube. They have a tapered base and appear alternate with the calyx lobes. There are usually 5 stamens that protrude from the tube a considerable distance (3 to 5 times the length of the petals). Anthers are cream to pink colored. There are two styles that are united for most of their length, which exceeds the length of the stamens. The ovary is smooth. The flowers droop downward from the stalk of the inflorescence and individual flower stalks are not jointed, unlike the currants.
Fruit: Pollinated flowers produce a smooth green fruit that ripens to a dull reddish-purple berry similar to the color of the prickly gooseberry, but without the prickles. Each contains numerous small seeds. The remains of the calyx persists on the fruit.
Habitat: This plant tolerates some shade with moderate moisture to slightly dry soil. Too much shade will inhibit flowering. The plant can become weedy. Michigan considers it a "Plant Pest." However it is considered endangered in NJ, OH and PA.
Names: An older botanical name that is a synonym for this plant is Grossularia missouriensis (Nutt.). The genus Ribes is derived from the Syrian or Persian word ribas which means 'acid tasting'. The species name, missouriense, means 'of Missouri'. The author name for the plant classification, Nutt., is for Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859), English born botanist and zoologist who worked in America and collected many of the species that Lewis and Clark had found, but which specimens were lost by them on their return journey. He published The Genera of North American Plants in 1818.
Comparisons: See Prickly Gooseberry, Ribes cynosbati L. which has different flowers, prickles on the fruit and a different leaf base. The most look-alike Ribes is R. echinellum which has a bristly ovary but is found only in Florida and South Carolina. Ribes are the alternate host to white pine blister rust, therefore planting may be prohibited, or at least ill-advised, in certain areas.
Above: A Missouri Gooseberry in flower. Note the long red thorns on the older branches. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Below: Flower development - 1st photo - before sepals reflex (note fine hair); 2nd photo - sepals re-flexing exposing the smaller petals and the very long stamens and styles. Note the small green hairy bract at the base of the flower stalk. 3rd photo - Brown stout thorns on the main stem - much shorter than those on the upper branches
Below: 1st photo - A developed flower with sepals reflexing, stamens exserted. 2nd photo - Smooth green fruit of June, note remains of style persist on the fruit.
Below: 1st photo - Leaf with 5 palmate lobes, each lobe with sub-lobes and rounded teeth. Base straight to heart shaped. Petiole hairy. 2nd photo - Bumblebees with their long tongues are better pollinators of these flowers.
Notes: Missouri Gooseberry is not indigenous to the Garden. It does not appear on any Garden census until 2009. Curator Susan Wilkins has planted it several times in recent years, including 2012. Within Minnesota, Missouri Gooseberry if found in most counties west and south of a diagonal line drawn from Washington and Anoka on the east up to Polk and Red Lake in the northwest. In the U.S. it is known from Montana and the Dakotas eastward to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, then south as far as Virginia, Tennessee Arkansas and Oklahoma although in those states along the eastern seaboard it is considered to probably have been planted, or escaped from cultivation. It has been reported in Ontario but as an introduction, not as a native.
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"