Native Shrubs ... in wildlife landscaping

West Virginia Native Plant Society
West Virginia Nongame Wildlife Program

Bristly Black Currant - Ribes laustre
Skunk Currant - R. glandulosum
Red (Swamp Red) Currant - R. triste
Wild (American) Black Currant - R. americanum

  Currants differ from gooseberries by having no thorns at the leaf base (Bristly Black Currant does have bristly stems).
  Form: Bristly Black - Dense shrub to 5 feet tall.
Skunk - Stems sprawling, creeping or slightly ascending.
Red - To 3 feet tall, the arching or straggling branches often root where they touch the ground.
Wild Black - Upright shrub to 5 feet tall, dense.
  Bark and Twigs: Bristly Black - Many bristles about 1/4 inch long, reddish-brown, foul odor when broken.
Skunk - Thornless, pale brown, skunk-like odor when broken, buds green or purplish.
Red - Gray twigs, buds brown, thornless.
Wild Black - Thornless, ridges leading down twig from center of leaf scars.
  Leaves: In general are deciduous, alternate, simple and don't change color in fall.
Bristly Black - Smooth except for hairy leaf stalk (petiole), lobes deeply cut.
Skunk - Skunk-like odor if crushed, hairless, 5 to 7 deep lobes.
Red - Usually hairy beneath, 3 to 5 lobes, red leaf stalk.
Wild Black - Hairy beneath, 3 to 5 lobes, with resin dots on both surfaces.
  Flowers: Bristly Black - Drooping clusters, small green or purple (May-July).
Skunk - Erect clusters, white or pink (May-August).
Red - Drooping clusters, gray, pink to purple (April - July).
Wild Black - Drooping clusters, yellow or white (April -June).
  Fruit: Bristly Black - Black, bristly, foul smelling, bad taste
Skunk - Bright red, sticky, bristly not edible.
Red - Small, red, hard and smooth.
Wild Black - Black, smooth, with resin dots.
West Virginia Range:
Bristly Black - Rare in Mineral and Pocahontas Counties.
Skunk - High mountains of Hampshire, Mineral, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph and Tucker Counties.
Red - Rare in Mineral and Pocahontas Counties.
Wild Black - Uncommon in Fayette, Hampshire, Kanawha, Monongalia and Preston Counties.
Natural Habitat:
Bristly Black - Cold mountain woods and swamps.
Skunk - Wet woods, clearings and rocky slopes.
Red - Cold mountain woods and swamps.
Wild Black - Woods and thickets.
Wildlife Use:
Fruits are eaten by a variety of songbirds such as catbirds, bluejay and robin, as well as, ruffed grouse, mourning dove and bobwhite quail. They are also eaten by chipmunks, raccoon, rabbit and skunk. Twigs and leaves are sometimes browsed by deer. The dense shrubs provide good shelter and nest sites for low-dwelling species.
Uses: Hedge, border, small groups or specimen.
Light: Partial shade acceptable but full sunlight is best.
Soil Moisture: Moist to wet.
Soil pH: Acid to neutral.
Problems: Leaves can be damaged or killed by anthracnose, rusts or leaf spots. Currants are an alternative host for the white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola) which can kill young white pines. The federal and state departments of agriculture frequently operate currant/gooseberry eradication programs where white pine is a commercially valuable timber tree. Quarantine regulations prohibit currants and gooseberries from being planted in these areas of West Virginia.

Compiled by: William N. Grafton, naturalist, botanist and wildlife specialist, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia

Written by West Virginia Native Plant Society members and jointly published with the WV Nongame Program

Illustration from Flora of West Virginia, Strausbaugh and Core