American Black Currant, Clove Currant

Ribes odoratum

History and background

Crandall fruit
Crandall fruit

There are several species referred to as American black currant. Ribes americanum has a strong resinous flavor, similar to the European black currant, but not as clean and crisp. Its native range is New Mexico to Virginia, and north into Canada (USDA hardiness Zone 2). Very few selections were ever made from this species, and none of these are currently known to be in existence.

Ribes odoratum is native to the American Midwest and Great Plains, north into Canada. Some catalog sources say it is hardy to Zone 2 and heat and drought tolerant. Ribes aureum is a closely related plant sometimes considered the same species. They are interchangeably called clove currant or golden currant because of the fragrance and color of flowers.

Crandall fruit
Crandall in bloom

Crandall, which is a selection of R.odoratum, is the cultivar being observed in the Carandale test plot. It is an old American clove currant variety first introduced in 1888. This thornless, loosely branched, deciduous shrub typically grows 3-4 feet tall but may reach 7 feet. The fruit looks like European black currant (Ribes nigrum) but larger (up to 3/4 inches in diameter) and far sweeter, lacking the distinct musky flavor. It is more appealing as a fresh fruit, but the less pronounced taste will not compare with traditional black currants when used for processing, although they can still be enjoyed in juices, syrup, jellies, preserves and pies.

Observations at Carandale Farm

Crandall black currant was included in the test plot in 2006, replacing black velvet gooseberry. Plants were received from Northwoods Nursery (see One Green World) and adapted well.

  • Plants started producing in the second or third year.
  • Fruit set was good despite the concern about self-pollination. They were planted next to other ribes, which may have satisfied cross pollination needs.
  • Fruit is sweet and mild enough to be eaten out-of-hand, but the processing potential has not been explored.
  • Shortly after fruiting, a Canadian thistle intrusion became a major competitive issue; consequently, both plant growth and fruit quality has been reduced.
  • Fruit ripens unevenly, which would make mechanical harvesting difficult.
  • Plants are thornless and appear to have good disease resistance.

Discussion

Plants in the test plot have been moderately vigorous and have not exhibited enough cane renewal to maintain good yields. This is at least partly due to competition from Canadian thistle, but is more pronounced than a similar situation with adjacent red currant and gooseberries. Crandall could provide a beneficial function in an integrated cropping system as an insectary plant and may even have economic sustainability. Additional observations, test marketing as a fresh fruit and information about nutritional values will be needed before a recommendation can be made.

As with many of the uncommon fruit observed in the Carandale test plot, Crandall should be test planted before investing in a commercial scale planting. This may be especially important for this cultivar. Lee Reich in Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden said that there may be several seedling versions of Crandall on the market, some of which may have “tough skin and unpleasant flavor.”

References

The Missouri Botanical Garden
Wikipedia entry on American Black Currant

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