Carrington Research Extension Center


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Red and White Currant – Ribes rubrum

Some red currant clusters.

A closeup of white currant clusters.

Red and white currants can be beautiful additions to your home garden.  They are ornamental, pretty compact and very hardy in North Dakota.  

Red currants have beautiful, tart berries that hang in clusters called strigs.  The white currant is a sport of the red, and has translucent berries in which you can see the seeds and inner workings of the fruit.  The white fruit is less tart and has a mild, almost bland flavor.   Many sources describe the fruit as sweet, but our impression here is one that leans more toward tart.  Yet, visitors to the orchard have remarked at how much they like the fruit.

Growing Red and White Currants:  In their natural habitat, currants often grow in wooded areas.  Therefore, they can tolerate a bit of shade, though fruit crops will be smaller.  Currants prefer a loamy soil with a neutral pH, though the soil at CREC has a pH of about 7.5.  We see very little iron chlorosis and sometimes treat the plants with a foliar spray of chelated iron. Pruning is the same as for black currants.

Though we have not had problems at CREC, there are three major pests of currants: imported currant worm larvae (they are sawfly larvae, not caterpillars) which may quickly defoliate the bushes, currant borers that feed on pith and cause cane wilting in summer, and currant fruit flies that ruin the fruits.  Sometimes large sphinx moth (aka hummingbird moth) caterpillars, known as hornworms, feed on currant leaves, but never in great numbers.  We move hornworm caterpillars from where they have been feeding to a bigger plant to help them out!

A closeup of red currant clusters.Red and white currant seeds are a bit tough, but the fruit is easily made into a bright, clear jelly.  Some recipes make a tart or pie from the berries but we haven’t tried that yet.  Like grape clusters, strigs of ripe berries can be dipped into egg whites and then rolled in sugar for a beautiful garnish.

In France, a very expensive, handmade jam called Bar-le-duc is prepared from white or sometimes red currants.  The small seeds are removed with a needle or goose quill, it is said, leaving each berry intact.  In northern Europe, red currants are favored for fruit soups, tarts and Linzer torte filling.

In the CREC orchard, birds have not bothered these berries.  However, in an urban setting, you may have to net the bushes to get a harvest.  Alternatively, you can plant them just for their beauty and as a bird attractant.


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