American Black Currant
Description & Overview
American Black Currant is a Wisconsin native shrub that has so much to offer, albeit, in a rather understated package. Small yet showy yellow-green flowers bloom in mid to late spring and then mature to a small, black berry high in antioxidants that wildlife relishes. In fall, leaves turn a beautiful peachy-red-orange color, extending the season of interest. It is attractive, durable, and edible – a trifecta of goodness!
You may also know this plant as Eastern Black Currant or Wild Black Currant.
In the Ribes family along with Gooseberry which has thorns, American Black Currant is thornless and is found in moist woodlands, streambanks, sandy sedge meadows, and rocky ravines as an understory shrub. Though adaptable to many conditions, including dry sites, American Black Currant prefers wet areas where it is supplied with consistently moist soils.
American Black Currant is small in overall size and does not clump or sucker which makes it a great choice for limited spaces. It also has a shallow, unaggressive root system and can easily be hedged. All of these qualities put it in a category of a great landscape plant.
The plants are self-fruitful and do not require another to cross-pollinate; however, the more there merrier! A single plant will produce fruit. Three to four currant plants should produce enough fruit for the average family. Be sure to allow room in between multiple plants, at least three feet to five feet. Fruit should begin to form when the plants are between one and three years old.
High in vitamins A, C, and Potassium, Phosphorus, and Calcium, American Black Currant can be eaten fresh, dried, or can be cooked and used as jams, jellies, syrups, pie fillings, sorbets, and even wine, making it a wonderful addition to an edible garden. The taste is plum-like (although somewhat bitter) and juicy, popping much in the way a grape does when bitten. The fruit ripens in July, dangling like beautiful jewels. There are a ton of websites with recipes and creative ways in which to use this terrific fruit.
Add other larger shrubs such as Silky Dogwood (Cornus racemosa), American Hazelnut (Corylus americana), or Common Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), to create a delicious habitat for birds and small mammals.
Plant along a woodland edge or as an understory planting where it can receive both sun and partial shade. It would also be a fine choice in an area recently cleared of Buckthorn.
Although not a high risk, American Black Currant has been a host for White Pine Blister Rust and should not be planted near Eastern White Pine. There are other non-native cultivated varieties or species of currant such as ‘Consort’ or ‘Titania’ that are immune to Currant/White Pine Blister rust. These may be a better option for your landscape if you have White Pine in the vicinity.
American Black Currant provides benefits to a multitude of pollinators and wildlife. The following insects use it as a host plant: Small Magpie moth (Eurrhypara hortulata), Green Comma butterfly (Polygonia faunus), Hoary Comma butterfly (Polygonia gracilis), Gray Comma butterfly (Polygonia progne), Gooseberry Fruitworm moth (Zophodia grossulariella), Cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia), Orange-barred Carpet moth (Dysstroma hersiliata), Viriginian Tiger Moth (Spilosoma virginica) and many more.
A range of wildlife will eat the berries, including thrushes, catbirds, robins, bluebirds, and brown thrashers. Mammals, including will black bears, raccoons, squirrels, mice, and foxes, will also enjoy the fruit. Deer will occasionally sample the twigs and leaves but only if little else is available.
Bumblebees, small Carpenter Bees (Ceratina spp.), and Sweat Bees (Halictid spp. and Lassioglossum spp.) will visit the flowers.
Plants produce the best fruit on last season’s growth (one-year-old wood). All canes older than three years should be removed to allow the growth of new canes using Thinning Cuts.
If the intention is not to support wildlife, but instead feed yourself, be sure to protect plants from chipmunks, squirrels, and raccoons using caging.
Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: No
Rabbit Resistant: Yes and No
One invertebrate, Cecidophyopsis psilaspis, the Currant Bud Mite, will cause galls to form on the buds. This is merely cosmetic, although it may lower fruit production.
American Black Currant is somewhat rabbit resistant.
This is an alternate host plant for White Pine Blister Rust. Do not plant near White Pines. The rust lives between two hosts: five-needled pines such as White Pine and currants. The rust on currants is called Currant Rust, while the rust on pines is called White Pine Blister Rust. Many external factors like high humidity, high moisture, and high density have a role in the rust’s lifecycle and severity. American Black Currant is not immune or resistant to White Pine Blister/Currant rust. For this reason, in the early 1900s, there was a federal ban on currant plants to protect pine trees which were and still are planted extensively for the lumber industry. This ban was lifted in 1966, and no longer applies to Wisconsin. While the impact on white pine is variable and unpredictable, there are some states in which planting remains restricted. Be sure to check with your local extension office if you’re unsure.
The Genus name Ribes is from Arabic and Persian languages for shrubs with acidic and bitter fruit. The specific epithet americanum refers to where this species occurs.
Several Native American tribes used American Black Currant medicinally including Winnebago women who used the roots to help uterine troubles. The Meskwaki traditionally used root bark to expel intestinal worms, while the Iroquois used a compound of the roots for kidney troubles, and fortune-telling, although there is no proof that it can predict the future.
Other edible or culinary-useful plants to plant along with American Black Currant include (to name only a few):
- Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)
- American Filbert (Corylus americana)
- Apples (Malus x domestica)
- Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
- Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)
- Thimbleberry (Ribes americanum)
- American Elderberry *once cooked* (Sambucus canadensis)
- Wild Hyacinth (Camassia scilloides)
- Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
- Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
- Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)
- Glossy Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa var. elata)
- Missouri Gooseberry (Ribes missouriense)
Other plants that enjoy similar site conditions include:
- Speckled Alder (Alnus incana var. rugosa)
- Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)
- Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)
- Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
- Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
- Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)
- Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)