Pacific Northwest native- red flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum- a favorite on both sides of the Atlantic!

Red flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum.

My botanical illustration this week is part of an on-going series I am creating – Pacific Northwest Native Plants. Sadly, the actual shrub from which I sketched this illustration is no longer alive, having succumbed to a bad ice storm several winters ago. I have since planted more red flowering currants, Ribes sanguineum, in my yard but I am glad to have this botanical illustration as a souvenir of that plant. It was a very fine specimen.

A favorite with the humming birds!
This lovely shrub is native to the Willamette Valley, Oregon, where I now live, but it is also fairly common in Ireland – where I come from originally. I remember it as a child growing in the hedge between my garden and my neighbor’s. I didn’t pay much attention to it, as I didn’t like its “perfume”. I have since discovered that humming birds have no such scruples –or a very different sense of smell to humans- because the red flowering currant is a sure favorite with them here every spring.

Thanks to Archibald Menzies and David Douglas.
Thinking of those childhood memories got me wondering about how long the red flowering currant has been in Ireland- a pretty long time as it turns out, thanks to two Scotsmen – Archibald Menzies and David Douglas. Menzies was the first to bring the shrub to the attention of botanists in Britain in the late 1700’s. But it was David Douglas who brought back the viable seeds that became the first red flowering currant shrubs grown on that side of the Atlantic.

In 1825 the London Horticultural Society sent Douglas to the Pacific Northwest; his task was to collect plants that were already known to British botanists but had not been introduced into cultivation. He more than fulfilled this task, not only introducing many already described plants but also “discovering” new ones.

David Douglas – seed collector extraordinaire!
So successful was Douglas in his collecting that he overwhelmed his clients with vast amounts of seed obliging them to redistribute the surplus to other nurseries. According to the Horticultural Society of London the proceeds from selling this shrub alone more than paid for Douglas’ trip to the Pacific Northwest and to this day the red-flowering currant remains one of the most popular flowering shrubs in Britain.

Aislinn Adams

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