Clusters of tubular rosy-red flowers hang down from branches of red flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) in early spring when the new leaves are just emerging. The nectar-rich flowers bloom just in time for the northward spring migration of rufous hummingbirds as they fly into cool regions from their overwintering grounds in Mexico, and red flowering currant provides vital food for them on their way to Alaska. This deciduous shrub is native to western North America.
Red flowering currant is an irregularly shaped shrub in the gooseberry family growing 3 to 10 feet tall in as little as five years when cultivated. Deep green, lobed leaves are 1 to 3 inches long and have a heavy, musty smell. They turn yellow-orange in fall before dropping to reveal the plant's red-brown bark. Bloom extends from March into April, with individual flowers less than 1/2-inch long. Bluish-black fruit have a waxy bloom. The primary pollinators are various species of hummingbirds. Red flowered currant grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 10.
Red flowered current is characterized by "Garden Mentors" founder Robin Haglund as a "hummingbird magnet," and they attract several species of hummingbirds, such as the already-mentioned rufous hummingbird and Anna's hummingbird. The flowers also attract butterflies and bees. The plants provide cover for nesting songbirds and small mammals. Leaves are eaten by deer and elk, and by caterpillars of the moths Caloptilia nondeterminata, Phyllonorycter ribefoliae and Aseptis binotata, as well as the gray comma butterfly. Birds such as robins, thrashers, mockingbirds, thrushes, towhees, waxwings, sparrows, jays, woodpeckers, grouse and pheasants eat the fruits, and many mammals as well, including coyotes, foxes, raccoons, squirrels and chipmunks.
Some cultivars were developed in England, where red flowering currant has long been a popular garden plant. "Brocklebankii" has rosy-pink flowers and golden spring foliage that becomes chartreuse in summer. "King Edward VII" has rich crimson flowers on a 3- to 6-foot -all shrub. "Pulborough Scarlet" has long, narrow clusters of deep red flowers. "White Icicle," also known as "Ubric," originated at the University of British Columbia Botanical Gardens and has light green foliage and pure white flowers. "Pokey's Pink" came from the Columbia River Gorge, with white-flushed candy-pink flowers. "Mary's Peak" exhibits pinkish flowers with yellow and orange undertones. All the varieties are attractive to hummingbirds.
In its native habitat, red flowering currant often grows in moist areas along streams. In gardens it appreciates well-drained soils in sun or partial shade. If in sun, give additional water during hot summer months. Bushes grow in moist or dry conditions, and although drought-tolerant once established, give supplemental watering for a season or two. Red flowering currant needs little maintenance other than occasional pruning to shape the plant or remove dead or crossing branches. Locate the bush where you can conveniently watch the hummingbirds visit the flowers when the plant is blooming, and enjoy the visits of wildlife that eat the fruits.
- United States Forest Service: Celebrating Wildflowers: Plant of the Week: Red-Flowering Currant (Ribes Sanguineum)
- United States Fish & Wildlife Servie: Pollinators: Featured Pollinator: Rufous Hummingbirds
- The Gossler Guide to the Best Hardy Shrubs; Roger Gossler, Marjory Gossler
- Garden Mentors: Plant Profile-Ribes Sanguineum
- Washington Native Plant Society: Ribes Sanguineum
- University of California Berkeley: Lepidoptera (Moths and Butterflies) At Inverness Ridge in Central Coastal California and Their Recovery Following A Wildfire
- Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society: Biology of Polygonia Progne Nigrozephyrus and Related Taxa (Nymphalidae)
- Rainy Side Gardeners: Ribes Sanguineum
- Pacific Horticulture: A Currant Affair
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