Picture this: You walk outside on a beautiful midsummer morning. You wander over to a bush that’s loaded with shiny black berries and start picking your breakfast. It’s no fantasy—it’s clove currant, a North American native that offers edible fruit, pretty green leaves that turn red-purple in fall, and yellow spring flowers with a strong spicy fragrance. All this, and no thorns. Plus the birds and butterflies like it. What could be better? How about two? (You can get by with one, but two clove currants will cross-pollinate and boost fruit production.)
Common name: Clove currant
Botanical name: Ribes odoratum
Plant type: Deciduous shrub
Zones: 4 to 8
Height: 3 to 7 feet tall
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Rich and humusy
• Moisture: Average to moist
• Mulch: Mulch to help keep soil moist.
• Pruning: Cut suckers to the ground if you want to prevent clove currant from forming a thicket. Pruning the branches will encourage better fruit production.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By cutting
Pests and diseases
• Aphids, caterpillars, and scale insects may be problems.
• May be vulnerable to powdery mildew, downy mildew, leaf spot, and rust.
• The flowers of R. odoratum open in early spring and the fruit ripens by midsummer.
• Plants in the Ribes genus are an alternate host for white pine blister rust, and are banned in parts of the United States. Check with your local extension service to make sure clove currant can be safely planted in your region.
• The mature bush can get a bit rangy, so either plan to spend a bit of time pruning it each year or plant it in a place where its natural form is an asset—for instance, at the back of a wildflower garden, in a barren area that needs cover, or as a transition between the flower garden and the woods.
• Underplant R. odoratum with early wildflowers like shooting star, bloodroot, and spring beauty. Their delicate blooms will provide a beautiful carpet under the currant’s yellow blossoms.
• R. odoratum ‘Crandall’ is an old variety, dating to the late 1800s. It has especially good, large fruit.
All in the family
• The genus Ribes contains about 150 species, including black currant, red currant, and gooseberry. (The currants you buy in the store are not true currants but tiny dried grapes. They aren’t even in the Ribes genus. Grapes are in the genus Vitis.)
Where to buy
• Shooting Star Nursery, Georgetown, KY, 866-405-7979, www.shootingstarnursery.com.
• High Country Gardens, Santa Fe, NM, 800-925-9387, www.highcountrygardens.com.
(Photo of R. odoratum ‘Crandall’ courtesy of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden.)