I’m gratified to see that more and more gardeners are
getting interested in the wild golden currant, Ribes aureum. This California native is more of a shrub
than a tree, although in the right setting, it can reach six to eight feet tall
and has all the presence of a small tree.
currant sports sturdy, dark, shiny leaves that make it attractive
year-round. Starting in spring, it will
produce small, bright yellow flowers that are faintly fragrant. The berries start out as a deep yellow, but
then they turn red and, eventually, black. The fruit is tasty right off the plant, but I’ve seen recipes for golden
currant jelly, currant cake, and I’ve even seen it used in rice pilaf and to
add a bright, sweet note to meat dishes.
appreciate it as well. Expect any
fruit-eating bird to flock to the berries, including flycatchers and the
charming California thrasher. Hummingbirds will also be interested in the flowers, and the plant will
serve as host to bees, butterflies, and other insects.
currant fits into a number of unique niches in the landscape. It does well as
an understory plant under mature oaks and pines, for instance, and it will grow
alongside ponds and streams. It likes a
little shade—think of it as a woodland, riparian plant—and in more ornamental
gardens, it can work in a mixed border with salvias and the native wild rose Rosa
californica. For a little variety, you might ask around at native plant
nurseries for the cultivar Ribes aureum gracillimum, whose flowers,
which are unscented, start out as yellow but then turn red. It’s a little more frost-tender as well, so
expect it to thrive in coastal areas where winters are mild.
Golden currant will drop its leaves
in January or February. Like most
natives, this is an undemanding shrub that only needs a deep watering once or
twice a month to keep it going.