History and background
Jostaberry is a complex ribes hybrid of the European currant (Ribes nigrum) and gooseberry (Ribes sup). The attempt to capture the best qualities of both species in one plant dates back to 1883, but it wasn’t until 1977 that the first cultivar was made available to the public. The long delay between conception and success was due to a mule sterility problem (good plant growth, lots of flowers, but no fruit set) that was eventually overcome with a chemical treatment. Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden by Lee Reich summarizes the interesting history about the development of jostaberry.
Since the original introduction of jostaberry in 1977, hybrids have been manipulated to refine certain qualities, and other cultivars have been introduced both in Europe and the U.S. In the U.S., they are referred to as the ORUS Series, some of which are now commercially available. (ORUS is a combination of OR from Oregon state and US from the USDA).
The first jostaberries were second generation hybrids whose offspring differed, giving the plant a range of fruiting characteristics. Plants for the Carandale test plot were ordered from two different sources (Indiana Berry and Plant Co. and Northwoods Nursery – see One Green World) to see if there might be a difference in plant characteristics. There were no notable differences, indicating they were probably propagated from the same historical clone. Indiana Berry no longer lists jostaberry in their catalog, but many other sources do. Some of the newer cultivar selections are starting to show up in retail catalogs.
Observations at Carandale Farm
Jostaberry was included in the test plot in 2006. Because the plants were simply named “jostaberry”, it is logical to assume they were clones of the original introduction from 1977. But neither plant size nor yield has matched expectations. This could be due to site conditions, but that seems unlikely because of how well currants and gooseberries have performed at the test plot.
- Yields and plant vigor are acceptable, but not outstanding
- The good-sized fruit looks like a gooseberry (with the dried calyx) and has tough skin
- Fruit clings tightly with no dropping tendency
- Fruit is gooseberry-like when green, and has a mild taste reminiscent of black currant when fully ripe
- Plants are thornless and exhibit good disease resistance
- Plants could probably be trained for mechanical harvesting
Jostaberry has the advantage of being thornless and disease resistant. Nutritional value is probably intermediate, between its gooseberry and black currant parentage, both of which are very high in vitamin C. Fruit quality is subjective. Though acceptable for fresh eating and processing, it is not an improvement over either of its parents. Disease resistance and hybrid vigor could be reason enough to included jostaberry in a commercial planting. Growers might be wise to trial newer cultivars before committing to a commercial planting, due to the potential for variability in the original plants and to take advantage of some recent breeding improvements.