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Currant and Gooseberry – Ribes spp.

CURRENT AND GOOSEBERRY TAXONOMY

The genus Ribes contains about 150 species, notably the red and white currants (R. sativum Syme, R. rubrum L.), the black currant (R. nigrum L.), and the gooseberry (R. grossularia L.). Traditionally this genus is placed in the Saxifragaceae, along with many ornamentals such as saxifrage, mock orange (Philadelphus), coral bells (Heuchera), hydrangea, and astilbe. In the 1980′s, taxonomists broke-out Ribes from the Saxifrage family and placed it into its own family, the Grossulariaceae, consisting of a single genus divided into 7 subgenera. Some taxonomists give the gooseberries their own genus (Grossularia), but since gooseberries and black currants have been hybridized to produce ‘Jostaberry’, a thornless gooseberry-like fruit, it seems a bit ridiculous to split Ribes into 2 genera (and even to create a separate family for it!). Gooseberries from North America are R. hirtellum and its hybrids; those from Europe are R. grossularia.

Cultivars:

A. Red currants: ‘Jonkheer van Tets’ (Holland), ‘Earliest of Fourlands’ , ‘Laxton’s No. 1′ (England), ‘Perfection’, ‘Wilder’, ‘Red Cross’.

B. White currants: ‘Werdavia’, ‘Zitavia’, ‘Meridian’, ‘Victoria’, ‘White imperial’, ‘White Grape’

C. Black currants: ‘Baldwin’, ‘Blackdown’ ‘Ferdoti 1′, ‘Noir de Bourgogne’ (for brandy in France). ‘Topsy’, ‘Kerry’, ‘Magness’, ‘Consort’

D. Gooseberries: several thousand named cultivars; 3004 red, 675 yellow, 925 green, 280 white. Only green, white and yellow fruit are used for processing. ‘Careless’, ‘leveller’, ‘Invicta’.

ORIGIN OF RIBES SPP, HISTORY OF CULTIVATION

The genus Ribes is native to the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere. Europe, Asia, and North America all have native species. Most commercial production is concentrated in Europe and the USSR, and most cultivars have been derived from species native to these areas. Currant cultivation has been practiced at least since the 1500′s in Europe, and the late 1700′s in N. America when the first colonists arrived. Gooseberry production began around 1700 in Europe. Virtually all production exists in Europe and the USSR today. Disease and adaptation problems have restricted production in North America, as well as a federal ban on cultivation of Ribes spp. imposed in the early 1900′s, since they serve as an alternate host for white pine blister rust – white pine was a major timber species at that time. The federal ban was rescinded in 1966, but many states in the US still prohibit cultivation of Black Currant.

The name “Currant” probably arose as a corruption of “Corinth”, the Greek city which shipped small raisins called currants (which were actually dried grapes) throughout Europe. Since red and black currants are about the same size as these raisins, the name stuck although a misnomer. The term “gooseberry” is probably and evolution of the German “Jansbeere”, meaning “John’s berry” because its ripening period coincided with the Feast of Saint John. Alternatively, the French word for currant “Groseille” which derives from the Latin epithet for the species, may have been mispronounced/misspelled to yield “gooseberry”.

Folklore, medicinal and non-food uses.

WORLD AND UNITED STATES CURRANT AND GOOSEBERRY PRODUCTION

A. World – 550,903 MT

1. Germany – 170,000 6. Norway – 18,000
2. Poland – 168,595 7. Austria – 16,488
3. Russia – 50,000 8. Ukraine – 15,707
4. UK – 28,200 9. Hungary – 15,000
5. Czechoslovakia – 24,801 10. France – 14,632

New Zealand production is increasing rapidly; currently 3,600 MT, quadrupling since 1980.

B. United States – 50 MT. Leading states are New York and Michigan. With yields of 2-5 MT/acre, this means that less than 100 acres are cultivated in the US.

For the most up to date statistical data on United States and World production numbers please refer to the following two websites:

World: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Statistics Division (FAOSTAT). FAOSTAT

United States: The United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA Ag Stats). USDA Ag Stats

BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION

A. Plant: Low-growing bushes with erect stems, which are thorny in gooseberry but not currants. Gooseberries attain heights of 2-5 ft, red currants 3-5 ft, and black currants the most vigorous, at 5 ft. Renewal canes come from the crown or beneath the soil, and fruit for about 3 years. Planting longevity is generally 15-30 yr, being less for black currant than red currant or gooseberry. Leaves of currants are 3-5 lobed, somewhat acute tips, dentate margins, petioled; in gooseberries, leaves are smaller with shorter petioles, 3-5 lobed with obtuse tips and crenate-dentate margins.

B. Flowers: Flowers come from terminal mixed buds in red currant and gooseberry, which appear as lateral buds on 1 yr wood, because the vegetative axis is greatly reduced. For practical purposes,
the bearing habit can be considered lateral on 1 yr wood. Inflorescences contain 1-3 flowers in gooseberry, and 8-30 flowers in currants. Inflorescences are racemes, commonly referred to as “strigs”. Ovaries are inferior.

C. Pollination: All currants except black and gooseberries are self-fertile, and are grown without pollinizers mostly. However, the degree of self-fertility is influenced by climate, and 1-2% of the planting should contain pollinizing cultivars. Black currants are mostly self-incompatible, but will produce some fruit if self-pollinated, sometimes by stimulative parthenocarpy.

D. Fruit: In all cases, an epigynous berry, since ovaries are inferior. The fruit is usually glabrous and crowned with calyx remnants. Pronounced striations appear like “lines of longitude” in surfaces of young fruit, especially gooseberry.

GENERAL CULTURE

A. Soils and Climate:

Soils. Loamy soils with good drainage, pH 6.2 to 6.5, 1% organic matter, and at least 1.5 to 2 ft deep are recommended. Roots only extend 8-16 inches, so particularly deep soils are not necessary.

Climate. Because of their extreme cold hardiness, long chilling requirements, short maturation period, and intolerance of summer heat, Ribes spp are well-adapted to northern areas, and are often grown where severe winter cold precludes tree fruit production (into northern Sweden!). Since bushes are small, snow often protects them from winter injury in the extreme north.

Plants require only 120-140 frost-free days to mature fruit and complete their vegetative period. Fruit ripen in 90 days, and are harvested in July in northern Europe.

Sites with a cooler microclimate, such as a northern exposure are best since heat injury can be a problem.

Unlike other fruit crops, Ribes are shade tolerant, but will produce more in full sun. Afternoon shade may be used to avoid heat stress in warm areas.

Irrigation is beneficial to production, due to shallow rooting. However, water requirement is relatively low, 1 inch per week.

Chilling = 800-1600 hrs.

B. Propagation:

Hardwood cuttings are used for currants and American gooseberries (R. hirtellum). Serpentine, trench, or mound layerage is used for European-type gooseberries, since they do not root well from hardwood cuttings.

“Tree gooseberries” are produced in Hungary by “green grafting”, essentially a whip graft made during the growing season. These plants have single trunks to 12-18 inches. The benefits are: less powdery mildew incidence, less frost damage, higher yield, and adaptability to over-the-row harvesters.

C. Rootstocks: Ribes aureum is the stock used for tree forms; clones ‘Brecht’ and ‘Pallagi 2′ have vigorous growth and reduced suckering. Rootstocks are produced (and grafted) in stool beds.

D. Orchard design, pruning, training:

Ribes spp can be grown as free-standing bushes, hedgerows, or tree-forms; hedges and tree-form hedges are most common in commercial plantings. Planting distances are:

Red currants and gooseberries – 3-4 ft x 8-9 ft.
Black currants – 4-5 ft x 10-12 ft for hand harvest. 2-3 ft x 10-12 ft for mechanical harvest.

General: Black currants fruit mostly on 1-yr wood, so canes with a lot of strong 1-yr growth are maintained, while older weaker canes are removed. Conversely, red currants and gooseberries fruit mostly on spurs on 2-3 yr shoots, so many 1-yr canes are removed, canes 3 yr are removed, and a balance between 1 yr and 2-3 yr shoots is maintained.

THE CURRANT’S AND GOOSEBERRY’S CONTRIBUTION TO DIET

Ribes fruit are marketed almost entirely as either frozen, juice, jam or jelly. In France, a brandy is made from the black currant cultivar ‘Noir de Bourgogne’. Black currants are also used in many desserts, such as pies, while red currants are mostly made into jelly/jam. Gooseberries are made into jams, pies and dessert items. Fresh fruit are usually processed by consumers into various dessert items.

Both currants and gooseberries add color and flavor to dishes, generally having a tart “acid punch”. They are versatile in use, ranging from sweet or sour sauces, flavor heighteners (like lemon), to various pies, jellies, jams, and wines. Dessert puddings are popular in Europe. Gooseberries can be used for meat accompaniments or in foul stuffing.

Dietary value, per 100 gram edible portion:

Water (%) …………………………………. 84-89
Calories …………………………………….. 39-54
Protein (%) ………………………………….. 0.8-1.7
Fat (%) ………………………………………… 0.1
Carbohydrates (%) ……………………. 10-13
Crude Fiber (%) ………………………….. 1.9-4.0

% of US RDA*

Vitamin A ………………………………….. 2-6
Thiamin, B1 ……………………………….. 3-4
Riboflavin, B2 ……………………………. 3
Niacin ………………………………………… 0.5-2.0
Vitamic C …………………………………… 73-444 #
Calcium ……………………………………… 2.5-7.5
Phosphorus ………………………………. 2-5
Iron …………………………………………… 5-11
Sodium ……………………………………… —
Potassium …………………………………. 3-8

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* Percent of recommended daily allowance set by FDA, assuming a 154 lb male adult, 2700 calories per day.

# Black currants have the highest vitamin C content of all temperate fruits (444% of RDA!), with only Barbados cherry and rose hips having higher levels. Red currants and gooseberries have 73-95% of the daily allowance, which is very high as well. Black currants also contain bioflavanoids which are vasopressor agents (reduce blood pressure).