Winter Bloomer: Chaparral CurrantBy Kelli Kallenborn (Kelli)
January 21, 2014
Chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum) is endemic to California. It is found in Chaparral, Foothill Wooland, and Closed-cone Pine Forest habitats at elevations from 0 to 5300 feet elevation. It is up to 5 feet tall and wide. The two-inch-long leaves are hairy, dull green, and shaped like those of a mallow. In fact, malvaceum means mallow-like.
The small berries are attactive and add interest after the flowers are gone. Berries start out red and turn blue. They are edible, that is, they are not poisonous, but edible does not always mean palatable. They are dry and tasteless.
The big attraction for the plant is the flowers. They are usually white on the front pink on the back but all-pink flowers also can be found. Blooming can start as early as December or January, and signals the very, very beginning of wildflower season. They are a treat to see after the long, dry Mediterranean summer and fall, when little blooms. I see them as a harbinger of the rainy season and the wildflowers yet to come.
Chaparral currant is recommended for Sunset zones 7-9 and 14-24 (approximately USDA zones 8-10). This corresponds to the mediterranean climate zone of California. Though it is a xeriscape plant, it is not recommended for the desert (Sunset zones 10-13).
Plants should be given full sun or partial shade. Supplemental water is not necessary but moderate water can be given to keep the plant from going dormant in summer. Plants can be grown as a specimen or an informal hedge.
Plants can be propagated from seed or cuttings. Seed does not need to be stratified. Semihardwood cuttings should be taken in spring.
Be aware that Ribes serves as an alternate host for white pine blister rust and growing of them in banned in a few areas where white pines grow.
Native California Ribes are considered among the easiest shrubs to grow and chaparral currant is reported to be tough and durable.  Add some winter color and surprise to your mediterranean California xeriscape garden with this plant.
 Keator, Glenn, Complete Garden Guide to the Native Shrubs of California, Chronicle Books, 1994, p. 230.
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