American black currant is uncommon in Missouri, known from only one location in Schuyler County. The leaves have orange, resinous glands on the undersurface. An erect, ascending to spreading, spineless shrub, it bears flowers, and later black berries, in clusters of 6–15.
Leaves are alternate or in clusters, simple, blades 1–3 inches long or side, overall outline is circular; lobes 3 or 5, sharply pointed to blunt, base flattened to somewhat heart-shaped, margins irregularly toothed; upper surface dull green, smooth; lower surface somewhat hairy and dotted with an abundance of minute orange resin glands; leaf stalk slender, 1½–2½ inches long, hairy.
Bark is reddish brown, smooth, tight; pores small, oval, light-colored; wood soft, fine-grained, white, with a brown pith.
Twigs are upright to spreading, yellowish brown to grayish brown, with three ridges, extending below each leaf axil; lacking spines, hairy at first, smooth later, occasionally dotted with orange glands.
Flowers April–June, with flowers in drooping clusters of 6–15; clusters 1–3 inches long emerging from the axils of leaves; flower stalks are jointed toward the tip; flowers greenish white or yellowish, ⅜ –½ inch long; petals 5, shorter than the 5 sepals; stamens 5, not extending beyond the flower.
Fruits August–September, in drooping clusters 1½–2½ inches long; fruits ¼–½ inch across, globe-shaped, black, smooth; seeds numerous, minute, reddish purple, the surface rough or pitted. The fruits are not very palatable to humans.
Similar species: Not counting cultivated currants and gooseberries, Missouri has 4 species in genus Ribes (pronounced RYE-beez) that may be encountered in natural habitats. American black currant is one of our least common species and is a species of conservation concern.
- Golden currant, or Missouri or buffalo currant (R. odoratum), is most similar to American black currant, for it, too, lacks bristles or spines, has flowers and fruits in fairly ample clusters (3–10), and has jointed flowering stems. However, its flowers, especially in the afternoon, have a strong fragrance, described as a combination of spicy cloves and sweet carnations. And the smooth fruits are yellow to greenish yellow, becoming black at maturity. It has a different Missouri distribution: It is uncommon in the western part of the Ozarks, and it has also been introduced in Barton and Jefferson counties and in the city of St. Louis. It occurs on ledges and tops of bluffs and on roadsides and railroads.
- Our other Ribes species are gooseberries, with prickly stems and unjointed flowering stalks: Missouri gooseberry (R. missouriense), with its smooth, green to red or purple fruits, and prickly gooseberry, or dogberry (R. cynobati), with its prickly, greenish to pale red fruits. Compared to our two currant species, our gooseberries are relatively common and widespread.