Ribes (Sturtevant, 1919)

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Sturtevant, Notes on edible plants, 1919
Ribes (Sturtevant, 1919)

Ribes aciculare Sm.


Siberia. The berries are glabrous, yellowish or purplish, sweet and of a grateful taste.

Ribes alpinum Linn.


Europe and northern Asia. The fruit is sweet and not very acid but is much less palatable than that of the red currant.

Ribes ambiguum Maxim.

Japan. The fruit is a large, orange-yellow berry nearly half an inch in diameter. The country people eat these berries.

Ribes americanum Mill.


North America. Josselyn says the black currants "are reasonably pleasant in eating." Emerson says the fruit is black, watery and insipid. In Nebraska, Thompson says the fruit is large, musky but palatable.

Ribes aureum Pursh.


Missouri and Columbia Rivers. This currant was brought by Lewis and Clark from the Rocky Mountains to our gardens, where it is now very common and admired for its fragrant, yellow blossoms. In Utah, this currant is extensively cultivated for its fruit, which is much like the black currant. Its oval, blue berries are relished, says Downing, by some persons. Pursh says the berries, red or brown, are of an exquisitely fine taste and larger than a garden currant. Both black and yellow varieties of this wild currant occur and are much used by the Indians of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Texas, Oregon, California and Alaska

Ribes bracteosum Dougl.


Western North America. At Sitka, the fruit is eaten.

Ribes cynosbati Linn.


Northern and western United States. The fruit is brownish-purple and eatable.

Ribes diacantha Pall.


Siberia. The berries are about the size of currants, red and of a sweetish-acid taste.

Ribes divaricatum Dougl.

Northwest America. The berry, black, smooth, and spherical, one-third of an inch in diameter, is pleasant to the taste. The dried fruit furnishes winter food for the Indians. Lindley says that of all the species which came under his observation during his journeys in America, this was the finest in the flavor of its berries as well as in their size, being half an inch in diameter, sweet and juicy.

Ribes fragrans Pall.


Siberia and Tartary. This gooseberry bears red berries that are sweet and pleasant to the taste.

Ribes gracile Michx.


North America. Pursh says the purple or blue berries of this species are of excellent taste. The berries are glabrous, purple or blue and of excellent flavor. The fruit has a.rich, subacid, vinous, rather perfumed flavor, which is extremely agreeable. It is rather too acid to be eaten raw but when ripe makes delicious tarts.

Ribes griffithii Hook. f. & Thorns.

Himalayas at heights of 10,000 to 13,000 feet. The berries are somewhat austere in taste.

Ribes grossularia Linn.


Europe, North Africa and Himalayan region. The gooseberry is a native of northern Europe and mountains farther south even to India. This fruit is not alluded to by writers of the classical period. It is mentioned by Turner, 1573; and Parkinson, 1629, specifies eight varieties, while now, in England, where it is a popular fruit, the varieties are enumerated by the hundreds. In 1882, the Leveller variety with a berry weighing 818 grains was exhibited in England. On the continent of Europe, this species is little cultivated, and with us, says Downing, south of Philadelphia, it succeeds but indifferently. In the eastern states, on strong soils, when the best sorts are chosen, it thrives admirably. On account however, of the mildew, the English varieties have now been almost entirely superceded, by those of American origin.

Ribes hudsonianum Richards.


Northern North America. At Yukon, this species offers a fruit that is edible.

Ribes lacustre Poir.


Northern America. In Utah, the fruit seems to be eaten; in Alaska, the fruit is poor but is used.

Ribes magellanicum Poir.

Fuego. This is a tall shrub with black fruit, which is said by Hooker to have a very agreeable flavor.

Ribes menziesii Pursh.

Western North America. The fruit is utilized by the inhabitants of southern California in making jams.

Ribes nigrum Linn.


Europe and northern Asia. The black currant is said by Pickering to be a native of northeastern America, but most authors say of Europe and Siberia. It is common wild, says Loudon, in woods in Russia and Siberia. The shrub is cultivated for its fruit, which is valued for jellymaking. The fruit is sometimes used as dessert, and, in Scotland, the berries are eaten in puddings and tarts. In Russia and Ireland, they are put into spirits, as cherries are in England. The leaves, when dried, have been used as a tea substitute.

Ribes oxyacanthoides Linn.


Northern America. This is the gooseberry probably seen by Smith in New England in 1609 and mentioned by Edward Winslow among the wild fruits of Massachusetts in 1621, also by Wood, 1629-33. The fruit is smooth, small, purple, sweet and pleasant flavored and is much used by the Indians of Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, California and Utah. To this species may be referred the gooseberries of American origin, now so generally cultivated. Houghton's Seedling, one of the first, was disseminated in 1848 and was exhibited at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1847.

Ribes procumbens Pall.

Siberia. The berries are very grateful to the taste and are rufescent when ripe.

Ribes prostratum L'Herit.


Northern America. The fruit is black, watery and insipid. It is, however, eaten in Alaska.

Ribes rotundifolium Michx.


North America. Wood says the purple fruit is delicious. Fuller says it is smooth and pleasant flavored. In the Flora of North America,s the fruit is said to be about the size of the black currant, purple in color and delicious. In Illinois, it is a good deal cultivated for its fruit.

Ribes rubrum Linn.


Northern countries, extending southward along mountain ranges. While in some regions its fruit is nauseous and unpalatable, in others it has received commendation for the purposes of a jelly. These contrasts show the currant to be a plant variable in nature. As a cultivated plant, it began to receive notice in England towards the close of the sixteenth century; it is not enumerated in Tusser's list of 1557 but is noticed by Gerarde in 1597 as appearing in the London markets, but he gives it no English name and no very particular description. In 1586, however, Lyte gives the English names as Red Goose-berryes and Bastarde Corinthes; the word currans appears in Lovell, 1665, and Ray, 1686, uses our word currants. "Currant plants" were mentioned in the Memorandum of March 16, 1629, of seeds and plants to be provided for the New England colonists. The spelling of the word probably did not become fixed for some time, as Evelyn in his translation of Quintyne, 1693, yet uses the word currans. Mclntosh says the first mention of corans, our currant, is by Bacon, who says, "The earliest fruits are strawberries, gooseberries, corans, etc."

By the herbalists and early writers on horticulture, the first mention of the currant is by Ruellius, 1536, a French author, who praises it as a border plant and its fruit as an appetizer. In 1539, Ammonius says "we cherish it in our gardens," but adds nothing of further interest in this connection. Fuchsius, 1542, gives a figure which may be called a poor specimen of the Common Red and which resembles certain seedlings which are now frequently obtained. Tragus, 1552, gives a figure of the garden currant, which may well be the Common Red. In 1558, Matthiolus refers to it as common in gardens and it is also spoken of by Mizaldus in 1560. Pinaeus, 1561, gives a figure which may be that of a Common Red, while Lobel, 1576 and 1591, offers figures which are to be called Common Red, but which are of a far better appearance than those heretofore figured and mentions also a sweet kind. Lyte's translation of Dodoens, edition of 1586, speaks of the currant in England, but translates one name as "beyond the sea" gooseberry. This same year, 1586, Camerarius figures the Common Red, as does Dalechamp in 1587. The next year, Camerarius gives directions for sowing the seed of the wild plant in gardens and says these seedlings quickly come to fruit. We have hence the first clue as to how new varieties might originate, if this recommendation was generally followed. Camerarius also refers to a larger-fruited currant than common that was growing in the gardens of the Archduke of Austria. This is the first indication of improvement in varieties, such as might well be anticipated from the practice of growing seedlings. This Ribes bacci rubris majoribus may perhaps be considered as the Red Dutch variety, or at least its prototype. In 1597, Gerarde, as before stated, scarcely recognized the currant as being in general culture in England, but the next year, or 1598, brings us to what may well be called a picture of the Red Dutch variety, given in Bauhin's edition of Matthiolus, as also a mention of a white-fruited variety and another described as sweet. In these early days the exchange of plants might be expected to be in their most condensed state, that is as seeds. We have noted the appearance of a new variety of the currant, and now, as we examine the records of the next century, we shall find additional records of improved varieties just as if the advice of growing seedlings had been followed, and the better forms gained had been propagated by cuttings.

In 1601, Clusius speaks of a sweet variety found growing wild upon the Alps and differing not at all, as his figure also shows, from the Common Red; and of a larger-fruited sort with a red flower, which may not be our species, yet he believes the variety was grown in the gardens of Brussels. He also refers to a white-fruited sort, but what this may be is quite doubtful from the context. In 1613, we have some fine drawings of the currant in the Hortus Eystettensis representing unmistakably highly improved forms, and these varieties may well be called the Common Red, the Red Dutch and the White Dutch. The Large Red is said to be the same as the large-fruited sort described by Clusius. Dodonaeus, 1616, figures what may be called the Common Red, as common in gardens and useful for topiary work. In 1623, Bauhin names the Common Red, the Sweet-fruited Red, the Red Dutch and the White Dutch (for so we interpret the types) under Latin names and synonyms and says, at Florence, he had seen fruit larger than a hazelnut. J. Bauhin, in his history of plants, published in 1651 but written long before, for he died in 1613, figures what may be the Common Red and describes what may be the Red Dutch and the White Dutch. In 1654, Swertius figures the Common Red and two very fine, large sorts, which we may call the Red and White Dutch type, yet somewhat larger. Jonstonus, 1662, figures the Common Red and, as a compiler, makes mention of the Large Red and White. In 1665, Lovell speaks of the Red and White in gardens in England. In 1677, Chabraeus figures the Common Red, ard Pancovius, 1673, what may be the Red Dutch. Tnrre, 1685, refers to two sorts, the Red and White, as growing among the hills of Italy, but the latter the more infrequent. In 1686, Ray describes the three forms, the Common, the Large Red and the White, while in 1690, Quintyne mentions the Red and White Dutch by name, and Meager gives directions for growing the White. In the eighteenth century, we have like mention by botanists of the large and small forms, both red and white, and come to the use of common names for varieties. In 1757, Blackwell's Herbarium represents in colors what may be the Common Red, Common White, and the Red Dutch in Germany; Salberg and Trenborg, 1763 and 1764, name the Red and White Currant for Sweden; and Langley, in his Pomona, 1729, speaks only of Red and White Dutch in England. Mawe's Gardener, 1778, under Ribes, names for varieties in England, the Common Small Red, Large Red Dutch, Long-bunched Red, Champagne Pale Red, Common Small White, Large White Dutch, Yellow Blotched-leaved, Silver-stripedleaved, Gold-striped-leaved and Gooseberry-leaved.

In 1807, Miller's Dictionary names the Common Red, Common White, Champagne, White Dutch and Red Dutch. In 1834, Don names sorts as under English cultivation. Downing describes in the various editions of his exhaustive work on fruit culture 8 varieties in 1856, 25 varieties in 1866 and 23 varieties in 1885. The Report of the American Pornological Society for 1883 names as worthy of culture the following:

Angers, Cherry, Fay's Prolific, Knight's Red, Palluau, Prince Albert, Red Dutch, Red Grape, Versailles, Victoria White Dutch and White Grape, or 12 varieties in all.

The currant fruit has not changed at all in type under culture, but has furnished variety characteristics in increased size, diminished seed and improved quality. The wild plant bears currants like those of the cultivated, but more seedy and fewer on the bunch. Removed to the garden and placed under protective influences, the plant becomes more upright and more prolific and the bunches better filled, but the berries are no larger than those that may be found in the woods. Seedlings in general present the characters of but a slightly improved wild plant. Some individuals bear bunches but little, if at all, better than those borne by selected wild plants, and it is doubtful whether, from the examination of plants, botanists could determine whether a given plant was truly wild or but an escape from cultivation. If the testimony of the herbalists be credited, red, white and sweet currants are found in nature. Hence we may believe that these natural varieties are the prototypes of those that occur in gardens, and that horticultural gain has been only in that expansion which comes from high culture, protective influence and selection propagated by cutting or division. The currant reached Massachusetts from England about 1529, and this would indicate its culture in the British Isles, yet, as before stated, the currant does not appear in Tusser's list of fruits in 1557, nor in Turner's Libellus 1538, is scarcely mentioned by Gerarde in 1597, and in Lyte's English translation of Dodoens is distinguished by the English names "Red Gooseberries, Beyond-sea Gooseberries, Bastarde Corinthes and Common ribes." Plat's Garden of Eden, 1653, does not mention currants, although it purports to give "an accurate description of all Flowers and Fruits now growing in England," yet Parkinson's Paradisus, published in 1629, mentions the red and the white sorts. The French and Dutch names of transmarina or outre mer or over zee in various combinations indicate that the plant was brought from beyond their boundaries, while the old French name of ribetts, as given by Pinaeus, 1561, Cameraius, 1586, and Castor Durante, 1617, seems derived from the Danish ribs and Swedish resp or risp. In general, however, the vernacular name in the various countries was founded upon the generic name of the gooseberry. De Candolle thinks the currant reached culture from the Danes or the Normans, that is from. the northern countries, and in this opinion we concur. It seems, moreover, quite certain that the improved currant originated in the Low Countries, whence it received distribution where better varieties were appreciated.

The botanical names and synonyms of the currant are:


This type differs but slightly from the wild form, the bunches being slightly larger and usually better filled, or in some cases not differing. It may be considered as the wild form improved by slight selection and high culture.

  • Ribes rubrum. Linn. Sp. 290. 2nd Ed.
  • Rubra grossula vel transmarina. Ruell. 283. 1536.
  • Ribes. Ammon. 310. 1539; Fuch. 663. fig. 1542; Chabr. 112. fig. 1677.
  • Ribes hortense. Trag. 995. 1552.
  • Ribes officin. Matth. 101. 1558.
  • Grossula seu grosella rubra vel transmarina. Miz. Secret. 105. 1560.
  • Ribes vulgaria. Pin. 67. fig. 1561; Cam. Epit. 88. fig. 1586.
  • Ribes Arabum. Lob. Obs. 615. fig. 1576; Icon. 2:202. 1591.
  • Grossulae rubrae, Ribes rubrum. Lyte. Dod. 792. 1586.
  • Grossularia rubra. 1:131. fig. 1587. Dalechamp.
  • Ribes vulgare baccis rubris. Cam. Hort. 141. 1588.
  • Ribes rubra vulgaris. Hart. Eyst. fig. 1613.
  • Ribesium rubentis baccae. Dod. 748. fig. 1616.
  • Grossularia multiplici acino, sive non spinosa hortensis rubra, sive Bibes officinarum. Bauh. C. Pin. 455. 1623.
  • Ribes vulgaris acidus ruber. Bauh. J. n, ()7. fig. 1651.
  • Ribes rubra minor. Sweert. t. s3-fig- 2- I654
  • Grossularia non spinosa hortensis acino multiplici rubra vulgaris sive
  • Ribes officinarium. Jonst. 221. fig. 1662.
  • Ribes rubra, Turre. 588. 1685. Jonst. 221. fig. 1662.
  • Ribes vulgaris fructu rubro. Ray Hist. n, 1485. 1688.


This type also occurs in our references as a wild form which has been brought under culture. Ray in his synonyms refers to the Ribes vulgaris fructu albo, as does Gerarde, 2nd ed., 1630, which is probably this form.

  • Ribes vulgaris acidur, albas baccas ferens. Bauh, J. n, 98. 1651; Ray Hist. 11, 1486. 1688.
  • Ribes alba. Turre, 588. 1685.


This is an improved variety and in its historical references is carried forward to the Red Dutch.

  • Ribes baccis rubris majorib. Cam. Hort. 141. 1588.
  • Ribes vulgaris. Matth. Op. 151. fig. 1598.
  • Grossularia majore fructu. Clus. Hist. 1:120. i6oi.
  • Ribes fructu rubro, majore. Hort. Eyst. fig. 1613; Ray Hist. n. 1486. 1688.
  • Grossularis hortensis majore fructu rubro. Bauh. C. Pin. 455. 1623.
  • Ribes rubra major. Sweert. t. 33. fig. 3. 1654.
  • Ribes. Pancov. 341.fig. 1674.
  • Red Dutch. Quint. 143. 1693.


This is an improved form of the Common White.

  • Ribes .... unionum instar. Matth. Op. i. 32. 152. 1598.
  • Ribes fructu albo. Hort. Eyst. fig. 1613.
  • Grossularia hortensis fructu margaritas simili. Bauh. C. Pin. 455. 1623. (excel. Clus.)
  • Ribes alba. Sweert. t. 33, p. i. 1654.
  • Grossularia non spinosa, fructu margaritis similis. Jonst. 221. 1662.
  • White Dutch. Quint. 143. 1693.


The figure of Clusius shows this fruit to be the Common Red in form of plant and berry. Sweet-fruited currants, or currants not as acid as other sorts, are known among our modern varieties, and Ray in his Synopsis, 1724, mentions sweet currants of the common species as in Lord Ferrer's garden at Stanton, Leicestershire, England, brought from the neighboring woods.

  • Ribes .... fructu dulci. Matth. Op. 152, i. 31. 1598.
  • Ribes vulgaris fructu duke. Clus. Hist. 5, 119, fig. 1601.
  • Grossularia vulgaris fructu dulci. Bauh. C. Pin. 455. 1623. (exc. Eyst.)

This review of the history of the currant shows that the types of our cultivated varieties have existed in nature and have been removed to gardens. We have no evidence that these cultivated varieties have originated by gradual improvement under cultivation. When we come to subvarieties, we conclude that these have undoubtedly originated in gardens, or at least have been disseminated from gardens. The influence of fertile soil and sunlight upon growth would be to effect a greater prolificacy and increased size of bunches; through seedlings, and the process of selection, perhaps continued through successive generations, these plants which originate larger fruit might have been preserved and propagated. In the first woodcut, that by Fuchsius in 1542, we have apparently the normal wild currant grown under protected conditions; in Castor Durante, 1585, a figure which suggests an improvement over Fuchsius; in 1588, the appearance of the prototype or the original of the Red Dutch. We may hence say that the currant received its modern improved form between 1542 and 1588, or within 46 years. This amelioration of a wild fruit within such a limited period should serve for encouragement and should emphasize the belief, warranted also by the study of other fruits and vegetables, that the seeking of wild prototypes of varieties, and intelligent growing and selecting seedlings, might give great improvement, even within the lifetime of the experimenter, in the case of other wild fruits. To this conclusion our argument leads, yet the fact attained may be stated more concisely, that, in the currant as in the American grape, the improved variety came directly through selecting the wild variation and transferring it to the garden, or from a direct seminal variation from the seed of the common kind.

Ribes saxatile Pall.


Siberia. The berries are smooth, globose, dark purple when ripe and full of edible pulp. The acid fruit, mixed with water, forms a refreshing drink.

Ribes setosum Lindl.


North America. The berries are black, spherical and hispid, with a subacid, pleasant flavor, a little musky.