I have been looking for native perennial “foundation” plants for my garden, and the pink flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum) seemed to fit the bill as I was doing my research. This shrub has good form and early-blooming flowers that support insects and hummingbirds, while the later-forming berries support fruit- and seed-eating birds.
In January 2020, after determining that I wanted to try growing pink flowering currant, I started several plants from seed (from Larner Seeds in Bolinas) in four-inch nursery pots. I was pleasantly surprised that the seeds germinated relatively quickly, at least for native shrubs. I gave several of the seedlings away but kept a few for myself. I transplanted one into my front yard sometime in March, when it was about six or eight inches tall. The transplanted currant grew well all summer, with approximately weekly overhead hand watering to help it get established.
It is now approximately three feet tall, quite healthy, and starting to put out its new growth. It should start blooming in February and continue blooming through April. The beautiful pink flowers, which hang in clusters, are very attractive to hummingbirds (timely, according to Larner Seeds, for the Allen’s hummingbirds returning at that time from their winter trip to Baja California). In the summer the plant produces blue-black berries that provide food for birds. Apparently it “reseeds freely,” aided by birds who eat the berries. I am hoping this is true, as having a few more in the yard would be wonderful. In the winter it is partially to fully deciduous, and without supplemental water in hot, sunny areas it may drop its leaves in the summer as well.
I have planted my currant in a part of my yard that gets morning sun; except on the coast, pink flowering currant does best in bright shade. It will grow to be approximately six to ten feet tall and about as wide, and it can be pruned somewhat in the fall. My garden is classic East Bay clay soil, and this currant can handle that soil type, which many natives cannot.
Calscape shows pink flowering currant growing in the wild in the East Bay, as well as along the coast to the north and south of the Bay Area. This currant needs occasional to moderate summer water, depending on the amount of sun and heat it experiences. More sun or more heat means more water (but not a lot under any conditions). Its aromatic leaves make it unattractive to deer (important in my garden as we are visited by deer in the summer). It is also listed as “likely” supporting 80 (!) butterflies and moths, which is another important criterion for plant selection in my garden.
I am looking forward to following the life cycle of this plant, observing the insects and birds that frequent it, and watching it grow to maturity as part of the ecosystem I am trying to create in my garden.
If you want to add pink flowering currant to your own garden, you can find it at our CNPS East Bay chapter’s Native Here Nursery. The nursery is open for online shopping with easy, contactless pick-up by appointment.
— Robin Mitchell, Recording Secretary, CNPS East Bay Chapter