The genus Ribes includes currants and gooseberries (the name is derived from a Farsi word meaning “acid-tasting”). Gooseberries bear thorns but currants are thornless. Gooseberry fruits are larger and sweeter, and more often eaten raw (though birds favor the small berries of currants).
Ribes sanguineum, Red-Flowering or Pink-Flowering Currant, is native to the Western US. It produces pendant flowers that are beloved by hummers, in late winter or early spring. This one began flowering in our garden around Groundhog’s Day, that is, the cross-quarter known as Imbolc in the druidic calendar, which is the beginning of our spring here in the Bay Area. The flowers are long lasting, hanging on through our dry summer. Small blue berries appear in the fall, to the delight of birds.
I think we purchased this plant from Watershed nursery in Richmond last spring. It is now about five feet tall in a large container. In the ground it would probably get to be six to ten feet. It seems to like part sun rather than full, and is said to produce fruit even in nearly full shade. It is drought tolerant once established.
Ribes sanguineum has a bushier shape than Golden Currant, Ribes aureum, which is almost vinelike and in our garden seems happy against a fence. The red-flowering variety is also more deciduous, although this one never went fully deciduous. But the new leaves are glossier and greener, while last year’s leaves are more mottled and tend toward yellow. In some situations the plant will produce excellent fall color as the leaves turn. The leaves are fragrant.
This is a great habitat plant for Bay Area gardens, and a real beauty besides.