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Ribes triste


Ribes triste Pall. image

Photo courtesy of Kitty Kohout, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

Ulev, Elena D. 2006. Ribes triste. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].


Ribes rubrum var. alaskanum (Berger) Boivin [43]
    =Ribes triste var. alaskanum (Berger) Boivin [43]
Ribes triste Pallas var. albinervium (Michx.) Fern. [43]
    =Ribes triste Pallas var. albinervium (Michx.) Fern. [43]
Ribes rubrum var. propinquum (Turcz.), Trautv. & C.A. Mey. [43]
    =Ribes triste var. propinquum (Turcz.), Trautv. & C.A. Mey. [43]


red currant
American red currant
northern red currant
swamp red currant
swamp currant
wild red currant

The scientific name of red currant is Ribes triste Pallas (Grossulariaceae) [44]. There are 3 recognized varieties:

Ribes triste var. alaskanum (Berger) Boivin [44,71]
Ribes triste var. albinervium (Michx.) Fern. [44,67]
Ribes triste var. propinquum (Turcz.), Trautv. & C.A. Mey. [44,71,83]

Information about red currant is sparse, so some information about Ribes spp. in general is used in this review. When specific information about red currant is used, it will be identified.


No special status

Red currant is listed as endangered in Connecticut and Ohio and threatened in Pennsylvania [78]. More information on the state-level protected status of plants in the United States is available at Plants Database.


SPECIES: Ribes triste
Red currant is native to North America and is also found in northeast Asia [2,30,39,50,82]. It occurs from  Alaska to Newfoundland, south to Virginia, and west along the northern tier of states to Oregon, excluding Idaho [39,67,74,82]. Distributional information about the infrataxa of red currant is currently unavailable. Plants Database provides a distributional map of red currant.

FRES10 White-red-jack pine
FRES11 Spruce-fir
FRES18 Maple-beech-birch
FRES19 Aspen-birch
FRES26 Lodgepole pine

STATES/PROVINCES: (key to state/province abbreviations)


1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands

K093 Great Lakes spruce-fir forest
K094 Conifer bog
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K096 Northeastern spruce-fir forest
K099 Maple-basswood forest
K102 Beech-maple forest
K106 Northern hardwoods
K107 Northern hardwoods-fir forest
K108 Northern hardwoods-spruce forest

1 Jack pine
5 Balsam fir
12 Black spruce
16 Aspen
18 Paper birch
23 Eastern hemlock
24 Hemlock-yellow birch
25 Sugar maple-beech-yellow birch
26 Sugar maple-basswood
27 Sugar maple
30 Red spruce-yellow birch
31 Red spruce-sugar maple-beech
32 Red spruce
33 Red spruce-balsam fir
35 Paper birch-red spruce-balsam fir
38 Tamarack
39 Black ash-American elm-red maple
57 Yellow-poplar
58 Yellow-poplar-eastern hemlock
59 Yellow-poplar-white oak-northern red oak
60 Beech-sugar maple
107 White spruce
108 Red maple
201 White spruce
202 White spruce-paper birch
203 Balsam poplar
204 Black spruce
217 Aspen
218 Lodgepole pine
251 White spruce-aspen
252 Paper birch
253 Black spruce-white spruce
254 Black spruce-paper birch

411 Aspen woodland
901 Alder
904 Black spruce-lichen
905 Bluejoint reedgrass
920 White spruce-paper birch

Red currant is listed as a codominant in the following cover and habitat types:

White spruce (Picea glauca)- quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides)/red currant cover type [49]

North America
Prickly rose (Rosa acicularis)-red currant/naked miterwort (Mitella nuda)-tall bluebells (Mertensia paniculata) habitat type in boreal white spruce-balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and black spruce (Picea mariana) forests [48].


SPECIES: Ribes triste
This description provides characteristics that may be relevant to fire ecology, and is not meant for identification. Keys for identification are available [2,20,30,32,39]

Red currant is a low, straggling shrub [30,42,50,50,67,71,74,82,83], 1.3 to 3.2 feet (0.4-1.0 m) tall [2,32,50,71]. Stems are reclining [32,67,83] and branches layer at lower nodes [32,42,50,71,82]. Leaves are alternate, simple, 3- to 5-lobed [2,32,50,74,82], and softly hairy beneath [2,30,74]. The inflorescence is a 5- to 20-flowered drooping raceme [30,32,50,74,82], saucer-like [30,83], and 1.2 to 3.5 inches (3-9 cm) long [2,32]. Fruits are berries, 0.2 to 0.4 inch (0.6-1.0 cm) long [32,50,82], globose [32,74], smooth [13,32,71,74], and many-seeded [32]. Seeds are oval, flattened, 0.08 to 0.12 inch long, 0.08 inch wide and 0.08 inch thick [74]. Red currant probably has a root crown [37] similar to other Ribes spp.; however, information on this subject was unavailable in the literature.


Red currant probably regenerates vegetatively [37]; however, information specific to red currant was not available in the literature. Red currant regenerates from seed [37,85].

Pollination: Flowers of Ribes spp. are often wind pollinated [64].

Breeding system: Flowers of red currant are perfect [66] which makes red current monoecious.

Seed production: Ribes spp. generally produce seeds when 3 to 5 years old [7]

Seed dispersal: Seeds of Ribes spp. are dispersed almost entirely by mammals and birds during the summer and fall [64].

Seed banking: The seeds of Ribes spp. remain viable in the soil for "long periods of time" [56,64,72,73].

Germination: Wright [86] claims that the germination of the seeds of Ribes spp. are stimulated by fire, but provides no data. Seeds normally germinate in the spring following dispersal [64].

In a study by Nichols [60], 100 red currant seeds were planted in sterilized soil and placed outdoors in a cold frame for a refrigeration period of 71 to 112 days. Another box of 100 seeds was kept in a greenhouse and germination rates were compared. The number of germinating red currant seeds was greater and quicker without refrigeration [60]:

  Number of seeds germinating Number of days required for germination
After refrigeration 69 169-277
Without refrigeration 73 41-125

Seedling establishment/growth: No information is available on this topic.

Asexual regeneration: Heinselman [37] states that woody genera regenerate asexually via a root crown; however, he does not specifically mention Ribes spp. Red currant does regenerate by layering [32,42,50,71,82].

Red currant is found growing in rich, damp, and poorly-drained deciduous and coniferous woods [20,62,67,71,83], margins of bogs [30,32,50,71,74], lakeshores [74], and stream banks [42,71]. Red currant is a plant indicator for the white spruce/balsam fir forest type in the Lake States [68].

Elevation: Red currant grows from the lowlands to timberline in Alaska [42]. Further information about elevation is unavailable.

Soil: Red currant grows in well-drained to somewhat poorly-drained moist to wet soil [13,32,39,47,50,74,83]. In the lowlands of northern Wisconsin, it can be found growing in black spruce bogs composed of peat moss, with a pH of 4.5, and in northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis) swamps composed of compacted coarse wood peat [14]. In the white spruce-flood plain habitat of Alaska, red currant grows on well-drained alluvial soils [23]. In mixed-boreal forest types in southwest Quebec, it is more commonly found on clay than till deposits [51].

Climate: Climate varies throughout the range of red currant. In Canada and Alaska, red currant grows in cool, humid microthermal climates with cold, dry winters and warm, wet summers [21,24]. In southern Alaska, it grows in maritime climates on ocean-facing slopes [40]. In the Lake States, red currant grows in a continental climate [31,62].

Red currant is shade-tolerant [26,47] and occurs from pioneer to climax stages across its range [8,9,29,31,45,55,70,81].

In Itasca County, Minnesota, red currant was found growing in the pioneer stage of a highland hardwood burn of unknown intensity. Before the burn, climax hardwoods included balsam fir, basswood (Tilia americana), red oak (Quercus rubra), sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and eastern hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) [31].

In interior Alaska, red currant occurred in an early postfire successional stage dominated by paper birch (Betula papyrifera), and in a climax community dominated by white spruce. The intensity of the fires is unknown [55].

In mixed-boreal forests of eastern Canada, red currant grows in early successional stages. It was found growing in the 1st postfire successional stage, dominated by quaking aspen, paper birch, and jack pine (Pinus banksiana) and the 2nd postfire successional stage, dominated by balsam fir and northern white-cedar [8,9].

In boreal black spruce forests of British Columbia, red currant occurs in a mid-seral stage dominated by black and white spruce and meadow horsetail (Equisetum pratense) [45].

In western Labrador, Simon and Schwab [70] measured the abundance of red currant on black spruce sites that burned 2, 18, and 40 years ago, as well as 80 and 140-year-old dry and wet nonburned sites. Red currant reached the highest abundance on the oldest, wet sites. These sites were dominated by paper birch, with water that continuously seeped through the soil [70]:

Age of site (years) 2 18 40 80 140 dry site 140 wet site

Abundance (mean canopy volume, m³)

1.84 0.41 0.00 0.00 0.15 7.88

In northern Michigan, red currant occurred in the American beech (Fagus grandifolia)/sugar maple successional stage 20-25 years following fire of unknown intensity in a quaking aspen forest [29].

In 5 Chena River stands in the boreal forest of interior Alaska, red currant was present in late stages of succession [81]:

Cover type Alaska willow (Salix alaxensis) (0-50 years old) Balsam poplar  (50 years old) White spruce (120 years old) White spruce/black spruce (200 years old) Black spruce/Sphagnum spp. (120 years old)
Frequency (%) 0 0 30 80 10
Cover (%) 0 0 2 3 1

Red currant flowers from May to June in the northern Great Plains [32,50,74] and Alaska [82], and June to July in the northeastern United States and Canada [30]. Fruits mature from June to July in the northern Great Plains [50] and July to August in Ontario [71] and Alaska [82].


SPECIES: Ribes triste
Fire adaptations: Red currant may regenerate via a root crown [37], based on general patterns of asexual regeneration by woody species; however, information specific to red currant is not available in the literature. The seeds of red currant are stored in the soil [37,85].

Fire regimes: Coniferous forests of interior Alaska are particularly liable to destruction by fire due to long hours of sunshine during the summer, low precipitation, and high air temperatures. Heavy growth of lichens and mosses provide fuel for fires in the summer when very dry. Fires were set by Native Americans in early times to increase the quality of hunting, as a means to communicate, and as smudge fires for relief from mosquitoes. By 1896, gold was discovered by settlers, increasing the population dramatically. Between 1898 and 1940, an average of at least 1 million acres (404,687 ha) was burned each year, mainly due to highway and railroad construction, as well as to increase grass for forage, to kill mosquitoes and to make prospecting easier [55].

Fires were common in areas of the temperate forests of the northeastern United States where red currant occurs before European settlers arrived. Native Americans used fire for more than 1,000 years to clear land and drive game, maintaining a mosaic of seral stages. Fires may have burned at intervals of 3 years or less on dry forest sites and intervals of 100 years on wetter forested sites where red currant is found. After European settlers arrived, fire was used to clear land to encourage quick growth of grass for livestock. Over time, states attempted to control fire. Since the 1950s, fire has has become relatively rare in spruce-fir forests of the northeastern United States [53].

The following table provides fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where red currant is important. Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes".

Community or ecosystem Dominant species Fire return interval range (years)
maple-beech Acer-Fagus spp. 684-1,385 [16,84]
sugar maple Acer saccharum >1,000
sugar maple-basswood Acer saccharum-Tilia americana >1,000 [84]
birch Betula spp. 80-230 [76]
beech-sugar maple Fagus spp.-Acer saccharum >1,000
black ash Fraxinus nigra <35 to 200 [84]
tamarack Larix laricina 35-200 [63]
yellow-poplar Liriodendron tulipifera <35 [84]
Great Lakes spruce-fir Picea-Abies spp. 35 to >200
northeastern spruce-fir Picea-Abies spp. 35-200
black spruce Picea mariana 35-200
conifer bog* Picea mariana-Larix laricina 35-200
red spruce* Picea rubens 35-200 [22]
jack pine Pinus banksiana <35 to 200 [16,22]
Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine* Pinus contorta var. latifolia 25-340 [5,6,77]
red pine (Great Lakes region) Pinus resinosa 3-18 ( x=10) [15,27]
red-white pine* (Great Lakes region) Pinus resinosa-P. strobus 3-200 [16,36,54]
eastern white pine-eastern hemlock Pinus strobus-Tsuga canadensis 35-200 [84]
quaking aspen-paper birch Populus tremuloides-Betula papyrifera 35-200 [22,84]
quaking aspen (west of the Great Plains) Populus tremuloides 7-120 [3,33,58]
eastern hemlock-yellow birch Tsuga canadensis-Betula alleghaniensis 100-240 [76,84]
*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species review

Small shrub, adventitious bud/root crown
Crown residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)
Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)


SPECIES: Ribes triste
Fire that burns the organic soil probably severely damages or kills red currant; however, no research on this subject is available in the literature.

No additional information is available on this topic.

Postfire response of red currant is related to severity and intensity of the fire. Wright [86] claims that germination of the seeds of Ribes spp. is stimulated by fire, but provides no data. Red currant may also regenerate via a root crown [37]; however, no specific information on this is topic is available in the literature. Red currant regenerates via seeds stored in the soil [37,85].

Ohmann and others [61] classified and described upland plant communities resulting from fires 33 years previously in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northeastern Minnesota. From 1936-1966, 155 wildfires occurred. The researchers sampled 14 areas that were 5 acres (2 ha) or larger and were left unlogged or partially logged. Red currant was found in aspen-paper birch communities and in paper birch communities [61]:

  Presence in stands (%) Average frequency in sample plots within stands (%) Average cover (%) Average relative frequency (%) Average relative dominance (%) Average importance value (%) Commonness index (presence x frequency)
Quaking aspen-paper birch community 11 1 <1% <1% <1% <1% 12
Paper birch community 13 1 <1% 1 <1% 1 16

The effects of fire and spruce beetles were studied by Holsten and others [41] in white spruce forests within the Resurrection Creek watershed of the Chugach National Forest, Alaska. In 1980, 30 plots were established to monitor changes in species richness and diversity of understory vegetation as a result of spruce beetle-caused mortality of white spruce. The plots were remeasured annually for the first 5 years and again in 1985 and 1991. In June, 1984, a prescribed burn was conducted on 1,507 acres (610 ha) of the watershed to provide browse habitat for moose. Seventeen of the original 30 plots were within the burn. The burn consumed all overstory and understory vegetation and exposed mineral soil in a few cases. Eleven years following prescribed burning, the frequency and cover of red currant decreased to 0% on the burned and unburned plots. Since this response was observed on both burned and unburned plots, it does not necessarily prove that red currant is negatively affected by fire [41]:

  Burned plots (n=17) Unburned plots (n=13)
1980 (preburn) 1991(postburn) 1980 1991
Frequency (%) 6 0 8 0
Cover (%) 13 0 2 0

Viereck and Dyrness [80] studied the development of vegetation following the 1971 Wickersham Dome Fire near Fairbanks, Alaska, which burned 15,570 acres (6,300 ha) of predominantly black spruce forest. Data were collected for 3 years following the fire. Red currant was present in quaking aspen stands 1 and 3 years following a "heavy burn," which was defined as >90-95% of the area blackened; lesser vegetation and tree crowns were consumed. The largest percent cover and frequency of red currant occurred 3 years following the burn. No data were reported for red currant on control plots [80]:

1972 1973 1974
Cover (%) .05 0 .65
Frequency (%) 5 0 35

The effects of fire severity on the early development of understory vegetation in boreal mixedwood stands was studied on the 1999 Black River Fire in southeastern Manitoba. Before the burn, stands consisted of quaking aspen and a mixture of balsam fir, white spruce, black spruce and (or) jack pine and the stands had not burned for 70 years. Understory vegetation recovery was studied on four 12 to 25 acre (5-10 ha) plots from 1999-2002. Three fire severity classes were assigned: (1) scorched, litter not burned or partially burned; (2) lightly burned, with or without very limited duff consumption; and (3) severely burned, forest floor completely consumed, and organic matter in soil horizon may be partially consumed. Red currant was most prevalent in the scorched plots, where seed and crowns were probably least damaged. According to Wang and Kemball [85], scorching alone would probably not be sufficient to stimulate germination of red currant. The mean percent cover and frequency over the 4 postfire years for red currant was as follows [85]:

  Scorched Lightly burned Severely burned
Cover (%) 0.2 <0.1 0
Frequency (%) 3 2 0

The response of red currant to fire depends on fire severity, habitat type, and fuel load. With a root crown and seeds stored in the soil, red currant is able to withstand low- to moderate-severity fire [41,61,85], and occasionally, severe fire [80]. More data on the effects of prescribed burning on red currant are needed.


SPECIES: Ribes triste
Ribes spp. are typically eaten by livestock and wild animals; however, information about the importance of red currant as forage is unavailable.

Palatability/nutritional value: The browse value of Ribes spp. is typically poor to fair for livestock [18,79]. Ribes spp. have considerable nutritional value for songbirds, rodents, small and large nongame mammals and hoofed browsers [57,79]. In studies in Alaska, the fruits of red currant were eaten by black bears [35] and moose [52] during summer months.

Cover value: No information is available on this topic.

Ribes spp. can be propagated by hardwood cuttings taken during dormancy in the late fall, winter, or early spring. The cuttings can be planted immediately in a greenhouse or stored in moist sand or peat in a cool place until spring [19].

Ribes triste var. alaskanum and Ribes triste var. propinquum are cultivated garden varieties [71,83].

The fruits of red currant can be eaten raw [38,82] and are utilized by the Eskimo of the Northern Bering Sea and Arctic regions of Alaska [1]. Jams and jellies can be made from the fruits [38,82,83].

Red currant can be used to address urinary and gynecological problems [44].

Silviculture: Very dense understories of balsam fir and northern white-cedar suppress the growth of Ribes species [4].

Following clearcutting and shelterwood cutting in white spruce floodplain habitat on Willow Island in the Tanana River near Fairbanks, Alaska, the percent cover and percent frequency of red currant either returned to precut amounts or increased [23]:

Treatment Control Postclearcut Postshelterwood cut (14 m spacing) Postshelterwood cut (9 m spacing)
Year   Year 1 Year 2 Year 1 Year 2 Year 1 Year 2
Cover (%) 0.1 <0.1 .1 .1 .1 .1 .2
Frequency (%) 8 4 13 5 8 5 15

Yarie and Mead [87] developed biomass equations from foliar cover and height estimates of plant species to provide an efficient means for determining vegetative biomass on inventory plots in the Tanana River basin of interior Alaska. Equations are available in [87]:

Disease: Red currant is an alternate host for the white pine blister rust fungus [59,79].

Herbicide: The effectiveness of vegetation control treatments were measured 11 years following a wildfire in boreal white and black spruce habitat in the Dawson Creek Forest District of British Columbia to reduce dense mixed hardwood, shrub, and grass communities. Treatments included: (1) discing; (2) discing and glyphosate treatment; (3) no discing and glyphosate treatment and (4) an untreated control. Vegetation was measured 14 years following the treatments. Red currant showed no growth following any of the treatments and had 0.5% cover in the untreated control with a modal height of 0.33 feet (0.10 m) [11].

To control vegetation competing with white spruce, glyphosate was applied to one 328 x 328 ft. (100 x 100 m) plot at the Tsiloh River in the Fort James Forest District of British Columbia. Ten years later, vegetation was measured. Red currant was found growing in the plot treated with glyphosate and was not present in the control plot [12].

Wildlife: The density of red currant decreases moderately in deer yards, a place where deer herd during the winter months, of northern white-cedar swamps of northern Wisconsin [34].

Hummingbirds utilize the flowers of red currant [44].

Ribes triste: REFERENCES

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4. Bakuzis, E. V.; Hansen, H. L. 1962. Ecographs of shrubs and other undergrowth species of Minnesota forest communities. Minnesota Forestry Notes. 117: 1-2. [10316]
5. Barrett, Stephen W. 1993. Fire regimes on the Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forests north-central Idaho. Final Report: Order No. 43-0276-3-0112. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. 21 p. Unpublished report on file with: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT. [41883]
6. Barrett, Stephen W.; Arno, Stephen F.; Key, Carl H. 1991. Fire regimes of western larch - lodgepole pine forests in Glacier National Park, Montana. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 21: 1711-1720. [17290]
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32. Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. 1392 p. [1603]
33. Gruell, G. E.; Loope, L. L. 1974. Relationships among aspen, fire, and ungulate browsing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 33 p. In cooperation with: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Rocky Mountain Region. [3862]
34. Habeck, James R. 1960. Winter deer activity in the white cedar swamps of northern Wisconsin. Ecology. 41(2): 327-333. [55851]
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