What is an Alpine Currant?

Greer Hed

The alpine currant is a shrub from the plant family Grossurlariaceae, a family that includes most species of currants and gooseberries. It is a deciduous shrub, meaning that it loses its leaves at the end of its growing season. As its name suggests, the alpine currant is found growing wild in the Alps region, but the plant is also indigenous to most parts of central and northern Europe. It is a hardy plant that tolerates growing in a variety of climates and conditions, and is usually grown as a decorative garden shrub or landscape feature.

Alpine currant shrubs are susceptible to aphid infestation.
Alpine currant shrubs are susceptible to aphid infestation.

Alpine currant shrubs typically grow to heights between two and six feet (half a meter to about two meters) and have thick, abundant foliage. The pale green leaves are palmate, meaning that they have small, individual leaflets originating from the base of each leaf, an arrangement that loosely resembles the palm of a human hand with its fingers outstretched. The alpine currant also has tiny, yellow-green flowers that begin blooming in the middle of spring.

Caterpillars are considered a pest to the alpine currant shrub.
Caterpillars are considered a pest to the alpine currant shrub.

These shrubs also have round, bright-red berries that look like the fruits of the related redcurrant. Unlike redcurrants, though, the berries of the alpine currant have a bitter, unpleasant taste that renders them virtually inedible. The occurrence of berries on shrubs grown in home gardens is rare, because plant nurseries generally only have male plants available for sale. Male plants do not bear fruit, and cannot pollinate females when there are none in the vicinity.

The alpine currant prefers to grow in a spot that receives plenty of sunshine, although the plants will also tolerate shadier areas. Shrubs grown in shady conditions will not flower as abundantly and their foliage will be less developed. The plants can be grown in a variety of soil conditions, from sandy to clay-like. They have a resilient root structure that allows them tolerate planting on highly sloped ground, a trait that is useful if one is planting with soil erosion control in mind.

These shrubs do not need remarkably large amounts of water, but they do prefer consistent levels of moisture. Adding compost and mulch to the soil helps to maintain moisture levels and improve the drainage of the soil. The plants are susceptible to pests, such as aphids and caterpillars, and fungal infections, such as fungal rust and leaf spots, although these conditions can be minimized by keeping the growing area clean and free of weeds and quickly removing any plants that show signs of disease. Like most bushy plants, these shrubs also require pruning to remove old growth and dead branches. Alpine currants should be pruned in the summer, after their flowers have emerged.

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