Can’t believe we made it this far. I started rambling January of last year and my goal was to make it one full turn of the calendar. Well I limped a bit towards the end but here we are. February’s calendar is up, complete with the long awaited return of the Lannster, so get out there! On to the main event….
Last January’s bloom of the month was Manzanita. They are looking OK this year but I think a lot of the flowers (which form the previous season) got fried in the summer. Plus it’s pretty lame having the same winner two years in a row. Especially considering how lovely our winner is looking… Take a bow dear.
Chaparral Currant, or Ribes malvaceum to you pocket protector types is in the Grossulariaciae or goosefoot family (Ribes is the only genus in the family actually). Ribes is derived from Persian or Arabic ribas, which means “acid tasting”, referring to the somewhat sour fruits. The genus is divided into gooseberries (thorns), and currants (no thorns). Rambler readers should be familiar with our local gooseberry representative:
Chaparral currant, like the gooseberry, prefers to be in partial shade with poor soil and good drainage. Of all our local trails I would say they are most prevalent in the deep shade of Sisar Canyon, though specimens can be found on just about every trail. This is my favorite one from the Il Vento preserve at Thacher School:
Let’s look a little closer at the plant’s features. 5-7 feet tall with ascending branches, generally dormant and leafless until first rain. By December the shrub is covered in helically alternate, palmate (c’mon you remember, like a maple leaf) lightly minty scented gray-green leaves.
Almost simultaneously emerge 1-3 inch long drooping bunches of light pink to almost red flowers.
These flowers are a very important nectar source for hummingbirds as there are not many plants in bloom in December-February.
The flowers mature and turn in May-July into dark purple, edible, many-seeded berries.
Though not very common at nurseries currants are a great addition to any home garden.
Perfect for under oaks or in a shady corner they make a great habitat plant. Robins, towhees and hermit thrushes love the berries, you need to be quick if you want them for yourself.
Some mulch and occasional summer water will help your Ribes look a little better through the long summer, though I enjoy the look of the bare branches.
There are literally dozens of varieties of Ribes malvaceum and its northern cousin Ribes sanguineum available at native nurseries so the trip to Theodore Payne or Santa Barbara Botanical is worth the effort