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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - July 12, 2007

From: Seattle, WA
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: Diseases and Disorders
Title: Identification of gooseberry plant
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

Grew up in Colorado, our yard and several near us had medium to large size deciduous shrubs that produced small (.25"-.375") red berries that were very tomato-like. Delicate with a thin skin, slightly translucent with striated color, gel-like inside with large amount of small, flat seeds. They grew in twos, attached to a common stem, like a cherry configuration, and progressed from small, hard green berries when new to tomato red when ripe. Small white flowers in late spring-early summer. The foliage were small, dark leaves; branches were twiggy, straw colored. Thanks for your assistance.

ANSWER:

You have given a pretty good description of a gooseberry or currant, Ribes sp. We think that the plant you describe is probably White-stem gooseberry (also called White-stem currant), Ribes inerme. Ribes hirtellum, hairy-stem gooseberry, a native to the Great Lakes region and often found in Colorado landscapes is another possibilities. There are other Ribes species native to Colorado, but the characteristics you listed seem to best fit White-stem currant.

Currants and gooseberries, many of which make wonderful jellies, were once an important fruit crop in the United States. When the genus, Ribes was discovered to be an alternate host for White Pine Blister Rust, war was declared on currants, especially on the European native black currant, Ribes nigrum, early in the twentieth century. The fungal disease, which needs both pines and currants as hosts for the two parts of its life cycle, is damaging to infected Ribes plants, but devastating to Pinus strobus (eastern white pine) and other North American 5-leaf pines. The economic importance of pines necessitated drastic measures to protect the pine trees. Those measures included a federal law (since rescinded) mandating the eradication of all known Ribes nigrum plants and making it illegal to possess them. Though the federal ban is no longer in effect, some states still prohibit growing European black currant. Consequently, currants and gooseberries, still an important fruit crop in Europe, is today little-known in most of North America.

 

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