A kiss to currants for native and pollinator gardens

“I stamp this kisse upon thy currant lippe.” – Theseus in William Shakespeare’s Two Noble Kinsmen, Act 1, scene 1

Theseus, Duke of Athens, and his bride, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, have not been married long when Theseus goes off to battle and must leave Hippolyta behind. He kisses his beloved on her “currant lips” and whispers, “Sweet, keep it as my token.” How

Theseus and Hippolyta

romantic is that!

Indeed, Shakespeare often used plants to conjure up vivid images of the color and texture of a character’s physical attributes. In this case, the Bard is comparing Hippolyta’s luscious smackers to the ripe redness of the English red currant berry. Ribes rubrum is a close relative to the gooseberry bush. There is also a black currant (Ribes nigrum), and they make wonderful jellies/jams, pies and sauces.

This fruit is not to be confused with the raisin-like currants (Vitis corinthiaca), which Shakespeare also mentions in The Winter’s Tale.

Native red currant (Ribes sanguineum)

The red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), native to our area, is a deciduous shrub that grows up to 10-feet tall, but can be kept smaller with pruning. The scarlet flowers in racemes bloom in springtime, and the dark-colored berries are ready to be picked in late summer. This relatively low-maintenance shrub is a perfect addition to pollinator gardens as it attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.

March is a good time to plant new currant bushes and other cane-fruit plants.  It’s also a good time to prune established berry bushes. The OSU Extension recommends removing dead and crossing branches, and then cutting back any canes that are older than four years old at ground level. This will encourage new growth and more productive bushes.

When I prune, I also add compost and a slow-release, organic fertilizer to the soil (balanced N-P-K) and a few inches of mulch around the plant.

If leaf and cane spot fungi have been a problem on cane berries, now’s the time to use a copper spray to help protect the plants from disease. Spray again two weeks later.

Red currant (ribes rubrum)


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