The bulk of the Ribes family splits into two groups: the non-thorny currants, and the thorny gooseberries. The most famous of the latter group is the Fuchsia-Flowered Gooseberry (Ribes speciosum), but there are many other lesser-known relatives that are also enjoyable – such as the Santa Cruz Island Gooseberry, Ribes thacherianum.
This open plant features many long arching stems that extend from a central clump, reaching up 2–3 feet and outwards nearly twice that distance before touching the ground again (or conveniently resting on branches of another nearby plant). A number of small white and dusky red fuchsia-like flowers dangle from these branches in winter (where they are visited by hummingbirds), later turning into thorny berries used by a wide variety of birds including finches, robins, quail, thrashers, thrushes, and towhees. It does not go as dormant as other gooseberries, making it an attractive garden subject.
Ribes thacherianum occurs natively along streambeds and ravines on Santa Cruz Island. This rare plant is a federally listed Species of Concern. However, rare does not mean difficult to grow; like many other plants from the Channel Islands, it thrives in our garden on a well-draining hillside where it receives some supplemental water. We bought ours from the Theodore Payne Foundation. The Ribes ‘Ortega Ruby’ page profiles the currant side of this family tree.