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The name "currant" is derived from Corinth, an ancient Greek city. This name first designated a small grape exported from this region as dried fruit. Today, these small dried grapes are called "Zante Currants". In early times, fruits of the genus Ribes, which were similar to this small grape, were referred to as "corinthes, corans, or currans" in olde English texts.

Currants, from the genus Ribes that is, come in three forms: red, white, and black. The red and white currants belong to the same species; the whites are color variants of the reds. The black currants are separate species with dark colored fruits.

Currants were cultivated for their fruits by the mid-1500s and were known for their herbal and medicinal properties for at least 100 years before. Cultivars known from the mid- 1700s are available from collections today. The following are descriptions of three of these "ancient currants." The information was obtained from U. P. Hedrick. 1926. The Small Fruits of New York. J. B. Lyon Co., Albany, NY. and from evaluation data collected at the Corvallis Repository.

Red Currant - Ribes rubrum L.
Red Dutch: pre 1729. Origin: The Netherlands. This is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, red cultivar known. Plants: large; vigorous; upright; dense; productive; healthy; leaves medium in size, subcordate to almost truncate at the base; Flowers: early, fairly long, moderately loose, drooping, many-flowered racemes; calyx tube greenish, saucer- shaped; calyx lobes obtuse, separate, pale yellowish green, rather inconspicuous. Fruit: early midseason, clusters long slender, 10-18 berries, very loose; cluster stems long, berries cling well, variable in size, round, bright, glossy red, skin smooth, tender, flesh juicy, firm, best quality. (Illustration from Small Fruits of New York by U.P. Hedrick, 1926)

The Corvallis Repository is searching for propagules of this clone. Please contact: Kim Hummer if you know of a source for this cultivar.

White currant: Ribes rubrum L. (PI 556313)
White Dutch: pre 1729. Origin: The Netherlands. This is the oldest white currant known. This cultivar was brought to America in the 1800s and was placed on the American Pomological Society list of recommended fruits in 1852. Plants: above medium in size; vigorous; upright; slightly spreading, dense, very productive, healthy; leaves medium, subcordate to almost truncate at base. Flowers: short, dense, drooping medium to few-flowered racemes; calyx tube greenish, saucer-shaped, glabrous, calyx-lobes broadly obtuse, separated, glabrous, pale green; Fruit clusters short, medium compact, 8- 15 berries; cluster stems medium in length and thickness; berries are very early, very sweet, medium size to small, not uniform in size, darker yellowish-white in color than White Grape. Flesh moderately juicy, mildly subacid, quality excellent; seeds medium in number. In Corvallis, the flower season is late and the fruit ripen in mid-July. The productivity is medium although run-off is low. The canes are resistant to winter cane die- back but the plant is susceptible to American powdery mildew. (photo by Stan Pluta - fruit grown in Corvallis, 1995)

Black currant: Ribes nigrum L. (PI 556170)
Noire de Bourgogne: pre 1750. Origin: France. This is an early season black currant that ripens in Corvallis at the end of June. Plant: vigorous, spreading (not suitable for machine harvest). Fruit size medium (0.7 g/berry), yield medium, with about 9-10 fruits per raceme; run-off low (11.2%). Plant is resistant to winter cane die-back, slightly susceptible to American powdery mildew and leaf spot; susceptible to white pine blister rust. (photo by Stan Pluta - fruit grown in Corvallis, 1995)

The Corvallis Repository has more than 150 Ribes cultivars under field observation. Kim Hummer would be interested to hear from others who are evaluating Ribes. You may contact her by email .

March 1996, K. Hummer