Native Plants for the Intermountain West: Plant List

Golden Currant in the Landscape

Stephen Love, University of Idaho

Scientfic Name:  Ribes aureum var. aureum
Common Name:  Golden currant, clove currant, buffalo currant

Description:  Golden currant derives its name from the clusters of dark yellow, fragrant (smell like cloves) flowers that decorate the plants in early spring. The flowers are followed by edible orange, red, or dark purple (black) berries. In some wild populations of this species the whole range of berry color is present and intermixed. For a number of reasons, golden currant makes an ideal landscape plant. Plant size is modest (4 to 8 feet tall) and form is reasonably dense and cultured. Leaves have interesting lobed shape, maintain nice appearance all summer, and turn soft shades of orange and red in the fall. The edible berries provide food for birds or very quick (need to beat the birds) people. Plants are extremely adaptable, thriving under moisture regimes ranging from moderately xeric to consistently moist. Golden currant is a great plant for adding a native element to an existing landscape. It also makes an excellent specimen or accent plant in a water-conserving garden.

Native Habitat:  Golden currant is a widespread species found in all western states. Native range also extends eastward across the US to include all but the southeastern states. Western forms (var. aureum) inhabit a wide range of habitats, including riparian corridors, forest edges, moderately dry rocky hillsides, and even the extremes of barren lava fields. Elevation of golden currant habitat is dependent on latitude (lower farther north) but ranges from near sea level to almost 10,000 feet.

Cultural Requirement

Soil:  Tolerates a wide range of soils, including heavy clays, those with high levels of organic matter, and soils with high pH.

Moisture Tolerance:  Tolerates in a wide range of moisture conditions, from moderately xeric to moist. Produces best fall leaf color if provided consistent supplemental irrigation.

Sun/Shade/Preference:  Grows well in full sun to moderate shade. Maintains denser form with more sunshine.

Transplanting:  Seedlings of golden currant are easily transplanted, both from pot to pot and from pot to garden. Plants grow well in pot culture and make good subjects for 1-gallon or 5-gallon containers.

Propagation:  Golden currant can be propagated either by seed or vegetative cuttings. Seed requires an 8 week stratification period for maximum germination. Germination rates vary but are usually high. Seed germination results in detectable variation among seedlings. Golden currant can be propagated via cuttings. In some references, semi-hardwood cuttings harvested in September are recommended. In others, July harvested softwood heel cuttings are advised. A 30 second dip in bleach solution will reduce contamination. Cuttings can be rooted under mist in perlite:peat or sand media following a dip in 1,000 ppm IBA.

Maintenance (pruning, fertilization, deadheading, division, irrigation, etc):  Shrubs of golden currant are largely carefree. Occasional summer pruning may be needed to balance branch habit and control size. Regular irrigation, once every 10 days to 2 weeks during the heat of summer will improve appearance. Best form is maintained under moderately low fertility conditions, but in lean soils, plants may benefit from an occasional light application of fertilizer to increase vigor.

Insect, disease, or other problems:  Golden currant suffers from occasional infestations of aphids. Patience is the best control method as predator insects usually eliminate the problem. If an infestation is severe, active control measures may be required. Knocking the aphids from the plants with a directed stream of water is a good first step.

Landscape Value

Use in the Landscape:  Plants of golden currant can fill many niches in the landscape. They can be used as accent plants to fill in around other trees and shrubs in mature landscapes. Planted densely, golden currant makes a good hedge. The plant’s attractive form makes this species useful as a specimen shrub. Golden currant can contribute successfully to either formal or naturalized landscapes.

Weediness/Invasive Potential:  Plants from some locales may be slightly rhizomatous. However, spread is very slow, serving to increase the size of the shrub rather than to invade surrounding areas. Volunteers from seed are rare.

Foliage:  Leaves are deciduous, light green in color, and distinctly 3-lobed. Depending on source, the foliage is moderately dense to moderately open. The best forms for landscape applications are those with dense habit. Depending on provenance, leaves turn yellow, orange, red, or purple-red in fall.

Flower:  The dark yellow flowers grow in drooping axillary clusters. Individual blooms are about ½ inch in diameter. The flowers are very attractive to many pollinators, including hummingbirds. Bloom period is 2 to 3 weeks in early spring.

Timing:  April-May.

Fruit:  The fruits are orange, red, or dark purple berries, with color depending on source. Each berry contains several small tan seeds.

Form:  Upright, to spreading or slightly arching shrub.

Texture:  Moderately coarse.

Ultimate Size:  Mature size is dependent on provenance but usually ranges from 4 to 8 feet tall. Spread is similar to or slightly less than height. The best landscape plants are those with reduced height.

Rate of Growth:  Golden currant grows moderately fast, whether established as seedlings or cuttings. Plants usually remain vegetative until they are a few feet tall. Bloom usually commences the third year of growth, whether plants reside in pots or in the garden.

Suggested Plant Partners:  Golden currant can be used to fill in around taller native trees and shrubs, such as Pinus flexilis, Picea pungens, Acer grandidentatum, Populus tremuloides, Quercus gambelii, or Crataegus douglasii. Other good companions include moderately xeric wildflowers, such as Aquilegia coerulea, Aquilegia scopulorum, Penstemon wilcoxii, Zauschneria garrettii, Iris missouriensis, Deschampsia caespitosa, and Sporobolus airoides.

Availability:  Commonly available as potted plants from traditional and native-plant nurseries. Seed can be obtained from native-plant seed suppliers.

Commonly available as potted plants from traditional and native-plant nurseries. Seed can be obtained from native-plant seed suppliers.

Cultivars:  Although European breeders have used golden currants as parents to breed many cultivars, only ‘Crandall’ and ‘Gwen’s Buffalo’ have been selected in the US for propagation. Both of these cultivars were selected from the eastern type (var. villosum) and have black berries.


Denver Water. 1996. Xeriscape Plant Guide. Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, CO.
Ladyman, J.A.R. Accessed November 2014. Ribes aureum. US Forest Service Factsheet.
Mee, W., Barnes, J., Kjelgren, R., Sutton, R., Cerny, T. and Johnson, C. 2003. Water Wise: Native Plants for Intermountain Landscapes. Utah State University Press, Logan, UT.
Meyer, S., Kjelgren, K.K., Morrison, D.G. and Varga, W.A. 2009. Landscaping on the New Frontier. Utah State University Press, Logan, UT.
Nold, R. 2008. High and Dry: Gardening With Cold-Hardy Dryland Plants. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Robson, K.A., Richter, A. and Filbert, M. 2008. Encyclopedia of Northwest Native Plants for Gardens and Landscapes. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.