Winter is here in the Bay Area, but some natives are already looking forward to the clear yet milder weather that spring will bring. One such local is Ribes sanguineum (pronounced RY-beez san-GWIN-ee-um), commonly referred to as Pink Flowering Currant. Ribes is one of the first plants to awaken in the spring with a beautiful display of dangling pink flowers and green maple-like lobed leaves. It is an early flowering plant in the Sutro Stewards’ nursery lovingly described as “a harbinger of spring.”
Ribes is a deciduous shrub growing to 7 feet tall. Its fragrant flowers appear in late winter and early spring. Leaves are pungent and sometimes sticky, and its dark blue berries are edible, though very tart. Native Americans ate the berries fresh or dried, and the berries are also popular with birds.
First noted by Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery in 1806 along the Cowlitz River in Washington, it was later introduced into cultivation by 19th century Scottish botanist David Douglas, best known as the namesake of the Douglas Fir and our own Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana) found throughout Mount Sutro. Its range is south from British Columbia and Washington to coastal California. It is also found in Idaho. In California, Ribes can be found from Humboldt to Santa Barbara counties in the Coast Ranges. There are many different species of Ribes with flowers ranging from red to pink to yellow to white. Its nectar attracts hummingbirds, native bees, and butterflies, and it’s also a host plant for some butterfly species.
According to the California Native Plant Society, Pink Flowering Currant is one of the easiest of our native plants to grow. It tolerates a broad range of conditions, including sand, clay, wet, dry, sun or partial shade, acid or neutral soils. In the wild it drops its leaves in late summer when water is low, but tends to hang onto them when watered in a garden. Hence, the CNPS recommends withholding water by midsummer to encourage it to shed its leaves so you can enjoy its “… warm pink flowers on bare branches in the dead of winter-usually January or February-and its good form, pleasing bark and buds.” (Jake Sigg. Pink Flowering Currant. California Native Plant Society - http://www.cnps-yerbabuena.org/gardens/gardening_with_natives.html#pageTop).
Pink Flowering Currant is one of the many plants available for sale at our Native Plant Nursery.