Clove Currant

Every year I like to give a little push for 2 native Currants that, I believe, could be more widely utilized in home landscapes.

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Clove Currant

The first is Clove Currant (Ribes odoratum). I like to think of this plant as the North American answer to Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris). That is to say, it has an intoxicating fragrance in early- to mid-spring that entirely compensates for its unimpressive performance for the rest of the year.

I have mine planted near the sidewalk, and it perfumes not just the whole Front Garden but the yards on either side of us as well. It never fails to elicit appreciative comments.

Clove Currant
Clove Currant flowers

Clove Currant grows to about 8′ tall. It has large (for a currant) purple-black fruit that the birds seem to ignore for some reason. You’ll need male and female plants for heavy fruit set. It will sucker, but for me at least it hasn’t been hard to control. This is mostly a plant of the Great Plains, native from South Dakota to Texas, east to Minnesota and Illinois. The shape is not especially elegant, but that fragrance makes up for all other inadequacies.

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Wild Currant (Ribes americanum) – also known as American Black Currant – does not have a season of glory like Clove Currant. It has a green, calming presence throughout the growing season. It makes a low-growing thicket around the Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila) in our shady back garden.

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Wild Currant blooms later than Clove Currant, with hanging clusters of yellow-green flowers. Wild Currant is shade tolerant and prefers moist soil.

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This shrub grows fast and it spreads fast. Arching stems reach down to the soil, take root, and form new plants. So it is an on-going effort, though not an very difficult one, to keep this plant in bounds. And Wild Currant is resistant to Black Walnut toxicity!

Wild Currant, Ribes Americanum
Unripe Wild Currant fruit will be black when ripe.

The fruits of Wild Currant ripen over a long period and are popular with birds. I like to watch Robins and Cardinals hopping among the branches in summer. Birds distribute the seeds which contributes to the spread of the plant.

The variety of shrubs being used in American home gardens is definitely too narrow. Many gardeners, I suspect, would find these 2 natives to be worthy additions, with added benefits for the birds and our noses.

36 Comments on “2 Wild Currants for Native Plant Gardens”

  1. I have a clove currant (from the late Shooting Star Nursery). It is one of the survivors of my garden that has been overtaken by weeds, especially bindweed. So, I was glad to find it because, as you note, the fragrance is exquisite. Onward!

  2. I love how elegant the Clove Currant looks against your home (first photo). I now understand why birds flock to your garden: they find shelter in the thicket and food too! I keep a couple of “mock orange” shrubs for their fragrant blooms despite being totally unimpressive the rest of year.
    I immediately think favorably of your native shrubs: currant scones have always been my favorite!

  3. It is so good that you are reminding people to widen their use of native shrubs. Not only do they provide food for birds but also shelter. Everyone should have a wild corner, at least!

  4. For this particular genus, I think that those that are native here are actually prettier, with pendulous pink trusses of tiny flowers. They are quite florific, although not fragrant, and mostly fruitless, even in the wild. It seems odd that they put so much effort into bloom for such minimal fruit.

  5. Hello Jason, I can forgive almost any plant that looks mediocre most for the year, has inconspicuous flowers or is just totally forgettable if it has a stunning scent when in flower that fills the air, even if just for a few weeks. It’s almost like a slap-in-the-face reminder of why you keep it around when it doesn’t appear to do anything.

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