Golden Currant (Ribes aureum)

I’m generally not a huge fan of yellow flowers, especially the very bright, lemon-yellow kind. However, the petit blossoms of Golden Current have become a much anticipated exception to this each spring.

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*A handy growing summary chart is at the end of the article.*

Golden Currant (also known as Buffalo Currant, Clove Currant, and Missouri Currant) is a flowering and fruiting shrub native to the western United States. However, due to its use as a landscape plant, it has spread across the country into other wild habitats as its seeds have been distributed by wildlife. This has had consequences both good and bad. It’s a great nectar source for bees of all sorts along with hummingbirds, the berries are food for other birds and bears, but it has also been found to be a host species for White Pine Blister Rust, a devastating fungal disease of Eastern White Pine trees. Where I am in California, this is not an issue, but it is one you should consider depending on your location.

Aside from that, Golden Currant is a great plant to consider adding to your garden. It stays a moderate size as a small shrub, and its scalloped-edged green leaves have a bright and fresh green color all year until they drop for the winter. In the fall, the leaves will take on an orange to red color.

Just as fresh leaves are coming out in spring, the plant is completely coated in bright-yellow, tubular, star shaped flowers. At first the flowers start out completely yellow, then eventually the center takes on a tinge of orange-red color. The flowers can have a faint smell of vanilla or cloves (hence the other name of Clove Currant), and are loved by native bees and hummingbirds. The flower show lasts for a few weeks, but after that it will not rebloom.

If the flower is successfully pollinated, it will form a small currant berry. At first the fruits are small and green, then eventually turn pale yellow, then red, and ultimately purple-black when they are fully ripe in mid- to late-summer. The berries can vary in size, but they are rather small, usually only 1/4 to 1/2 inch across (about .5 to 1 cm). The flavor of the currant is mild but sweet, with tiny seeds, but it’s going to take a lot to make a mouthful! It’s a good thing then that a single bush can produce hundreds if not thousands once it reaches a mature size. They could be used like any other berry, like gooseberry or blueberry. We usually don’t harvest ours since the fruits are so very small, but instead leave them to be enjoyed by the grateful birds in our garden.

Golden Currants will do best if they are planted in full sun, but a little shade in hot regions won’t be detrimental. Ours is regularly subjected to 100+ F temperatures during the summer and has been fine, though it may be partly responsible for the rather small size of our berries. The plants are drought tolerant, being native to the arid western regions of the United States, but does prefer areas that are close to riparian habitats so they will need irrigation if rainfall isn’t sufficient. It is also a good idea to provide a layer of mulch to help insulate the ground from heat and trap moisture.

Not only can it tolerate high temperatures, but extreme cold is not an issue, either. It can reportedly tolerate temperatures as low as -30 F. We don’t ever get that cold here, usually only flirting with freezing temperatures, but this shows how very hardy the plant is. This cold tolerance also allows the plant to grow even at very high elevations, too. It is truly an adaptable plant!

Golden Currant is not terribly fussy about soil type, though better draining soil is generally preferred. Ours is planted in soil with a lot of clay that we have somewhat ammended with organic material. It grows in a range of soil pH from 6 to 8 which is what most soils typically are.

Depending on how favorable your conditions are, Golden Currant can grow anywhere from 6 to 10 feet tall and wide, though the rate of growth is moderate. Ours is currently 5 to 6 feet tall and we have had it for 5 years. It may also form suckers that can allow it to spread, but this may be more likely with looser soils and moister conditions. This has not happened with our bush, but the easiest remedy is to trim away the suckers to contain the spread, if desired. The plant can also be pruned to keep to a desired size, which could also help spur more fruit production, too. Seeds from the fruit can also form seedlings elsewhere, which is how it has become naturalized in areas outside of the western United States, but this has not been something we have observed in our garden. Again, the conditions just might not be conducive here, but it could be an issue elsewhere.

Plant Summary:

  • Perennial
  • Deciduous
  • Height: anywhere from 5 to 10 feet, depending on growing conditions, but more likely to be 5 to 6 feet
  • Width: consistent with height, but can be easily pruned
  • Flower Color: yellow, with tinges of orange and red as the flower matures
  • Sun: full sun, can tolerate morning or afternoon shade in hot areas
  • Water: though it can tolerate some drought, does prefer moist but well draining soil
  • Soil pH: 6 to 8
  • Soil type: tolerates various soils
  • Key nutrients: fertilize as you would for other flowers, but may not be needed in most soil
  • Planting time: can transplant in late summer or early spring, seeds need scarification for best germination
  • Zones: 5-9

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