Northern Ontario Plant Database
Ribes hirtellum Michx.
En: swamp gooseberry, smooth gooseberry, hairystem gooseberry, wild gooseberry, northern gooseberry
Grossulariaceae (Currant Family)
The Genus Ribes: Gooseberries and currents both belong to the family Grossulariaceae (formerly part of the Saxifragaceae – the Saxifrage Family), but currents have saucer-shaped flowers borne in long racemes, while gooseberries have tubular flowers borne singly or in small clusters in the leaf axils. Gooseberries belong to subgenus Grossularia (Mill.) Richard.
General: a straggling or erect, deciduous shrub, to 1 m tall. The bark is grayish, twigs are smooth (glabrous) or bear scattered bristle-like prickles that fall with the outer bark after the first year; the nodes bear 1–3 spines, 3–8 mm long.
Leaves: Alternate, simple, palmately-lobed, petiolate. Leaf blades 2.5–6 cm long, with 3–5 lobes divided less than halfway to the midrib; upper surface dark green, glabrous to slightly hairy; lower surface hairy and with scattered glandular hairs; leaf base tapering (cuneate), flat (truncate), or slightly heart-shaped (cordate); lobes are oblong to rounded, with blunt (obtuse) apices and coarsely-toothed (serrate) margins; the 1–3 cm petiole bears a few scattered hairs. Plants (var. calcicola Fernald) growing on limestone or other basic substrates have leaves that are very hairy on the lower surface.
Flowers: Bisexual, light greenish-yellow to purplish, pendant, borne singly or in few-flowered clusters in the leaf axils, the short flower stalks (pedicels) smooth and glandless; bracts subtending the flowers have margins bearing long hairs (ciliate margins). Calyx tubular to bell-shaped (campanulate), 6–9 mm long, with 5 short, narrow lobes; petals 5, small, attached between the calyx lobes; stamens 5, usually longer than the petals (exserted); the single pistil with a smooth, inferior ovary. Flowers bloom in early spring.
Fruit: An edible, green to purplish-black, smooth berry; globose, 8–12 mm in diameter. Fruits mature in summer.
Habitat and Range: Rocky shores, riverbanks, wet woods, bogs, and clearings. The smooth gooseberry, a boreal North American species, occurs throughout Ontario.
Internet Images: The Ribes hirtellum webpage, from the Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium, Plants of Wisconsin website.
Images of Ribes hirtellum from Andy Fyon's Northern Ontario Wildflowers website.
Similar Species: Ribes oxyacanthoides, the bristly wild gooseberry or northern gooseberry, is most similar to Ribes hirtellum, the wild gooseberry, since both have purplish-black smooth berries, but Ribes oxyacanthoides has stems with prickles along the internodes in addition to the 1–3 stout spines borne at each node, while the stems of R. hirtellum are smooth between the internodes. See other images of Ribes oxyacanthoides from Colin's Virtual Herbarium.
Back to species list