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Ribes sanguineum or red flowering currant is a shrub native to the Pacific Northwest and found primarily along the coastlines of California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Like other members of the currant family, it produces small berries, but these berries are not palatable to humans, although they are popular with birds. Red flowering currant is a relatively easy plant to cultivate, and it grows very quickly, making it an excellent choice for gardeners looking to develop their landscaping rapidly.
This plant is deciduous, losing its leaves in the fall and winter. It grows upright and can reach heights of up to 12 feet (approximately four meters), spreading out almost as wide. Ribes sanguineum has slightly hairy toothed leaves with a heart-shaped indent at the base, and produces tube-shaped flowers on trailing racemes. The flowers can be white, red, or pink, depending on the cultivar; two popular cultivars are 'King Edward VII' and 'White Icicle.' Generally, these plants flower in early spring, adding color to the garden before other plants start blooming.
Ribes sanguineum is hardy in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones five through eight and can grow in full shade to part sun. The plant requires moist sandy to clay loam soils and is relatively drought tolerant, having adapted to the long dry season found in some regions of the Pacific Northwest. Gardeners cultivating a low water native plant garden may want to position Ribes sanguineum near the moister end of the garden to help the plants weather periods of prolonged dry weather, and during severe drought conditions, it is advisable to water red flowering currants to keep them healthy.
Nurseries and garden supply stores in the Pacific Northwest often carry Ribes sanguineum, especially if they stock native species. Gardeners can also ask nurseries to order this plant, or order it directly through catalogs and online stores. It is often sold in bare root form, designed for easy transplanting. If conditions are right, the plant will thrive and may grow as much as six feet (two meters) in a single year. Other plants may take a few years to get fully established.
Flowering red currant makes an excellent specimen plant. It can be pruned or trained to control the growth and may also be used as a backdrop or hedge. Gardeners establishing a bird or butterfly garden may want to consider growing some Ribes sanguineum, as cultivars with red flowers in particular are very attractive to animal visitors.
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