A Native Gem

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Tucked into a corner of my house on a gravelly hill, is a small shrub planted several years ago when I first arrived in Knox County.

This shrub is known as Clove Current or Ribes odoratum and it certainly lives up to its description! About this time every spring, it's spicy fragrance becomes quite noticeable. Bearing yellow tubular flowers along the length of its stems, it perfumes the springtime air like no other plant. An irregular growing shrub, it stands at about 5 feet tall and has a suckering habit but flowers quite abundantly on all branches.

The Clove Current – also known as the buffalo, golden or Missouri currant is thought to have been discovered by Lewis and Clark in 1803. It grows as far north as Saskatchewan and Minnesota and west to the Rockies and as far south as Texas. In the late 1800's, settlers brought the plant from the wild to grow in their gardens both for its fragrance and the small berries it produces on female plants. About that time a cultivar known as Crandall was developed and widely grown. It remained a popular garden shrub until it was discovered that Ribes species were alternate hosts for the White Pine Blister Rust. Unfortunately, White Pine trees that had been imported from Europe came into this country infected with the fungus. To protect the lumber industry at the time, Ribes species were restricted and even prohibited in certain states from being grown and many wild stands of currents destroyed. The Clove Current then fell out of favor and was largely forgotten. Some states still prohibit the planting of Ribes but Illinois does not.

This beautiful native shrub came to me many years ago when I was growing up in rural DuPage County. I became acquainted with a farm wife in my community who was an avid gardener. I loved visiting her farmstead and seeing her huge vegetable garden and beautiful flower gardens. One day I noticed the fragrance of this shrub near her house. She told me that it had been a part of that landscape from the early 1800's when her Scottish descendants came to America and settled there. She remembered it growing wild along woodlands near that house when she was a young girl. Later, when I owned my own farmhouse, one of her sons surprised me one day with a gift of a start of Clove Currant!

This shrub has come with me now to my current home and continues to delight me every spring with its wonderful fragrance.

Rose Moore – Master Naturalist April Journal Entry 2018

Today's post was written by Rose Moore. Rose is a Certified Master Naturalist serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough & Warren Counties. She enjoys exploring the natural world around her and recording the experiences in art and writing.