Two kinds of the gooseberries and and two kinds of currants — all in the genus Ribes (pronounced RYE-beez) — are found in the Bodie Hills. All are shrubs. The gooseberries have nodal spines on their stems; the currants lack spines. Flowers, fruit color, and leaf shape vary among the species, so all are fairly easy to identify throughout the year. Here’s a key, followed by photos of each:
Ribes aureum var. aureum. Golden currant. Locally common beside wet meadows or streams. Nodal spines absent. Sepals yellow, 5–8 mm, spreading. Fruit red, orange, or black. Leaves ± 3-lobed to near middle, the lobes smooth-margined or sparsely crenate (with few smaller rounded lobes), glandular when young.
Ribes cereum var. cereum. Wax currant. Common around meadows and along streams; occasionally on dry slopes and talus. Nodal spines absent. Sepals white or white-green to pink, red, or purple, reflexed. Fruit orange to red. Leaves shallowly lobed, with the lobes finely toothed, generally glandular.
Ribes inerme var. inerme. White stemmed gooseberry. Occasional near springs, streams, or among aspens. Nodal spines present. Sepals reflexed, green-white, sometimes purple at base, petals white. Fruit purple. Leaves ± 3-lobed to near middle and the lobes coarsely toothed, not glandular.
Ribes velutinum. Desert gooseberry. Occasional in wet places along streams; sometimes in sagebrush scrub. Nodal spines present. Sepals not reflexed, sepals and petals white to yellow. Fruit yellow, becoming purple. Leaves 3-lobed and the lobe margins crenate (with smaller rounded lobes), glandular.
Ribes is generally recognized today as the sole genus in the Gooseberry family, Grossulariaceae. Since most families are named for a genus, why then not call the family Ribesaceae? In the beginning, the currants and gooseberries were placed in the Saxifrage family (Saxifragaceae). Several genera were recognized, but different authors lumped or split or organized them differently, and relationships were unclear. Ribes and Grossularia were the largest genera. Several attempts to improve their classification appeared over the years. Eventually, all the currants and gooseberries were removed to their own family, Grossulariaceae, named for Grossularia, but in time that genus was declared nomen illegitimum (an illegitimate name) and demoted in rank to Subgenus and/or Section. Grossulariaceae remains in use for the family, however, as nomen conservandum (a conserved name).
Several other Ribes can be found just west of the Bodie Hills in the high elevations and east side of the central Sierra Nevada. These include (among a few others):
CURRANTS (without spines):
Ribes nevadense. Mountain pink currant. A shrub of forest margins, often with spreading stems and an open branching pattern. The inflorescence is a dense raceme of bright pink flowers. The berries are blue-black, but usually glaucous — with a prominent white bloom (coating of yeast).
Ribes viscosissimum. Sticky currant. Another shrub of montane conifer forests, but rarely seen east of the Sierran crest. The leaves are relatively large (3–8 cm), shallowly lobed, and fragrantly sticky-glandular. The flowers are generally pink and white. The berries are black and glaucous.
GOOSEBERRIES (with spines):
Ribes montigenum. Mountain gooseberry. A low sub-shrub with spreading to decumbent branches. It’s found in subalpine and alpine habitats, and is especially common near the bases of lodgepole pines. The small flowers have green, green-white, or pale yellow sepals, and very short, red petals. The berries are bright orange-red, with sparse, short, glandular bristles.
Ribes roezlii. Sierra gooseberry. Another low shrub with spreading branches. It’s widespread and common in forest, chaparral, woodland habitats up to about 9350 feet, but uncommon east of the Sierran crest. The sepals are reflexed, 7–9 mm long, and purple; the petals are 3–4 mm long, white and sometimes pink-tinged. The berries are much larger than other Ribes in this area: 14–16 mm in diameter, red, with long, stout prickles.
Copyright © Tim Messick 2020. All rights reserved.
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