California native currants and gooseberries (Ribes spp.) have in recent years become more popular with urban gardeners, and for good reason. They have lovely flowers, fragrant foliage, are loved by many birds including hummingbirds, and don’t need summer water once established. The deer don’t like them. They do well under oaks. You can even eat the fruit… what’s not to like?
The one I am seeing most frequently in my neck of the woods is Pink Flowering Currant (Ribes sangiuneum). This plant looks great in woodland gardens, with its pendulous pink flower clusters in late winter/early spring, and delicate light green foliage. It reaches 8 or more feet in height, making it a good screen or background plant candidate. Its visual effect in the garden is light, airy and delicate.
Chaparral Current (Ribes malvaceum “Dancing Tassels”) is another favorite. It does well in sun or shade, and requires less water than some of the other Ribes. From December to March, this species produces large drooping clusters of light rose flowers that are a favorite for hummingbirds. Berries follow – they won’t knock your socks off but the birds go crazy over them.
Fuchsia-Flowering Gooseberry (Ribes speciosum) is favored by hummingbirds over other Ribes flowers, probably because its nectar has a higher sugar content. The flowers are very long and bright red. The leaves are deep green in color and shiny. It likes part shade, but can also be grown in full shade. This plant is very drought tolerant, going deciduous during the dry summer months.
Golden Currant (Ribes aureum gracillimum) has very straight branches and reaches 3-5 ft. in height. It produces lots of bright yellow 5 petal flowers during the rainy season, and then yellow berries that ripen to black. The berries are a favorite food of the California Thrasher as well as many other berry eating birds.