Ribes laurifolium

Despite the broken spade I managed to get a few plants in before the disaster at the weekend. One was a plant I have had before and missed and wanted to include in the garden. It is an evergreen currant, Ribes laurifolium. I have a slightly irrational but harmless obsession with ribes that I have been able to control, so far. I find them curiously attractive despite many having prickles and the fact that the flowers can be very small. It probably started decades ago when I had to find something to grow under holm oaks and tried Ribes alpinum, in its golden leaf form. Of course, being in dense shade it showed little of its golden potential but it grew. I can’t say it was anything anyone would have noticed but it survived and formed a neat little bush. Pleasant was almost saying too much of its merits. In my teens I also planted a Ribes speciosum, the fuchsia-flowered currant in my parents garden, one of the very best of the currants, perfect for wall-training and amazing when dripping with bright red flowers in May. And then, tramping through Oregon and Washington state woodlands I found other species flowering, some with tiny, green flowers but others with fuchsia-like blooms in red and white and others with ridiculously prickly fruits.

Ribes are peculiar in that some are hermaphrodite and others are single-sexed. It is fortunate that the edible currants we grow do not need separate plants as pollinators or fruit growing would be a lot more complex. The flowers, comprising five sepals and five petals (in most) are remarkably diverse, from tiny blooms that are little more than green discs with pathetic green petals to the several fuchsia-like blooms with reflexed sepals and showy, contrasting petals, with everything between the two extremes, such as the common R. sanguineum. This is as well known for its odour as its beauty and the buffalo currant (R. aureum) not only has bright yellow flowers but a sweet scent. The fire of my ribes obsession was stoked by meeting R. x gordonianum, a cross between the two. A slightly gangly shrub, it has flowers that are just what you would expect if you cross a pink bloom with a yellow one and despite my eternal dislike for yellow and pink flowers I am curiously drawn to this one and have it planted already. I am waiting to find an unusual or good cv of Ribes sanguineum for sale before planting it in the garden.

But Ribes laurifolium is now planted. It is Chinese and evergreen and flowers early in spring with profuse, showy clusters of pale, apple green flowers. This is a dioecious species, with male and female flowers on separate plants. The most attractive, and most commonly sold, are the males, with clusters of large (for a currant) flowers in slightly pendant habit. The leaves are dark green with red petioles and the whole thing is reminiscent of Helleborus foetidus in colouration. It is a rather lax plant with awkwardly placed and slightly sinuous stems and has the appearance that it would be good planted up a low, east-facing wall. The stems root where they touch the soil and I would be interested to know if it would cling to a wall. It would certainly look good against a low, stone wall but mine is planted on a soil bank where I hope it will grow outwards, the flowers high enough above the soil no to get splashed with soil or devoured by slugs and may root as it grows upwards – time will tell. Female plants produce black currants that I am sure birds would appreciate but I have planted enough for them already so I feel no guilt that this will not provide them with food! ‘Rosemoor Form’ I supposed to be hermaphrodite and to produce berries but I have never seen it. ‘Amy Doncaster’ is supposed to be a a superior clone and lower in habit and partly hermaphrodite.

As ‘Bean’ says;

Native of W. China; discovered and introduced in 1908 by Wilson, according to whom it is rare in the wild. It is not a showy plant, but is interesting and welcome in flowering as early as February or March. Male plants are more ornamental than female, the racemes being longer and the flowers larger. Award of Merit 1912.


Geoff’s rating


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apologies for the photos but it was windy!


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2 Comments on “Ribes laurifolium”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    February 4, 2020 at 1:55 pm #

    We have grown R. laurifolium for many years and give it little more than a glance as we pass by so it was a surprise to have a visitor to the garden a few years back whoop with excitement when he saw it – god help him, I thought, he must have a very dull life! Here, I have it planted on flat ground and it has not raised itself above a foot and a half and does, as you say, root as it moves along.

    R. x gordonianum is new to me – a gift from a friend only late last season and I look forward to seeing it perform in due time. R. speciosum is very special and I enjoy it very much – I remember it being mentioned on tv years ago, by Helen Dillon I think, and I went off post haste to our local garden centre in search of this latest rarity only to get the response: “That blasted thing! When I was an apprentice I had to plant dozens of them in Butlins one year”. He’s gone now, a great gardener – Paddy McGuire.

    You don’t mention the smell from the foliage of the currants which I find very attractive though, I suppose, it’s one of those smells which will appeal to some and abhor others.

    • thebikinggardener
      February 4, 2020 at 7:28 pm #

      I can’t imagine how anyone could call Ribes speciosum ‘that blasted thing’! Though I do have a similar opinion of some berberis for similar reasons. Yes I did omit mentioning the smell. My dad would not have Ribes sanguineum in the garden because it smelt of cats but, like you I quite like ribes foliage smell, but then I am not offended by frits either!

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