Fuchsia-flowered Gooseberry

Ribes speciosum

hanging pink flowers surrounded by green seashell leaves of the fuscia-flowered gooseberry

One of our most spectacular but least friendly shrubs is the fuchsia-flowered gooseberry (Ribes speciosum). In late winter into spring, its long, graceful branches are covered with shiny green leaves and lovely red pendant-like flowers, which conceal long and vicious spines (technically, thorns). Later, prickly globular red fruits develop. This shrub is one of several plants in the Reserve that survive long dry summers by going dormant. By late summer, leaves turn red. In autumn, when leaves have fallen, all that remains of fuchsia-flowered gooseberry is an intimidating barrier of spines. Las Pilitas Nursery suggests that “Mr. Wilson should have planted [fuchsia-flowered gooseberry] for Dennis the Menace”.

Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry is pollinated by hummingbirds. In return, its nectar provides an important energy source for hummingbirds on their spring migrations.

Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry is native to coastal regions of southern and central California and northern Baja California. In the Reserve, several plants can be seen in East Basin, just east of the junction of the main trail to La Orilla and the spur trail to Santa Carina trailhead.

Other Common Names:

fuchsiaflower gooseberry

Description 2,3,4,26,59

Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry is a woody shrub, 6-8 feet tall and nearly as broad, with long, wide-spreading branches covered with shiny leaves in small bundles. Leaves are rounded, 3/8″-1.25″ across with gently lobed margins, sometimes red-tinged at the edges. Main leaf veins are palmate, radiating out to the lobes from a single point at the leaf base. At the base of each leaf stalk is a cluster of (usually) three sharp spines, 3/16 – 3/4″ long. Stems between the spines are often prickly as well. Under drought stress, the plant is deciduous, the leaves turning red before they drop.

Flowers are bright red, about 1″ long, tubular, and pendulous; clusters of one to four flowers are more or less evenly spaced along the branches. Sepals resemble petals. Flowers are bisexual; four stamens extend well beyond the petals; filaments are red and anthers are red to purple (or yellow with pollen). The ovary is below the flower (inferior), swollen, greenish to red and covered with glandular hairs. The single style with a slightly-forked stigma extends beyond the petals. In full bloom, plants are showy, resembling the garden fuchsia from which it gets its name (but to which it is unrelated). Bloom period is January to May.1

Fruits are 4-10 seeded translucent berries, greenish-red, covered with hard bristles. Fruits are nearly as conspicuous as the flowers.

shell-like green leaves of the fuscia-flowered gooseberry with small buds
fuscia-flowered gooseberry covered in prickly pods
cluster of prickly pods of the fuscia-flowered gooseberry

Distribution 7,59,89

Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry is a California native that occurs naturally below 3700 feet (1120 m) in coastal areas from Santa Clara County, north of the San Francisco Bay, to central Baja California. It is generally reported to prefer shaded areas within coastal sage scrub, chaparral and oak woodlands.26,35,79

In the Reserve, several plants may be found in the open dry, sage scrub, east of the junction between the East-West trail to La Orilla and the spur to the Santa Carina trailhead. Many of these plants appear to be successful in full sun; others, grow next to the trail in more shaded areas along the north-facing slope. Two mature plants appear to have been planted at the Solana Hills trailhead.

Classification 2,11,44

Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry is a dicot angiosperm in the genus Ribes, which is currently considered to be the only genus in the small Gooseberry family (Grossulariaceae). It was previously considered a genus in the larger saxifrage family (Saxifragaceae). Species in this genus are shrubs with juicy berries and sepals that are often colorful. Plants with prickly berries are called gooseberries; those with smooth skinned berries are called currants. Members of both groups are familiar in the the garden and kitchen (think jams, jellies and pies).

One other species of this genus has been reported from the Reserve: winter current (R. indecorum).48 For many years, a single winter current has grown along the road at the top of Holmwood Canyon. It appears to be thriving in spite of increasing traffic along the road.

Alternate Scientific Names:

Grossularia speciosa

Jepson eFlora Taxon Page

Ecology 134,135,137

Fuchsia-flowered gooseberries are pollinated by hummingbirds, and the flowers are the quintessential hummingbird attractors. They are red (a color invisible to bees) and without scent (scent advertises the presence of nectar to insects, but hummingbirds have poor sense of smell). They are open during the day when birds are active. Each flower is a narrow tube (which helps exclude insect pollinators) that hangs mouth downward, away from the branches and leaves. It has the nectar source at the base of the tube so the hummingbird must probe deep into the flower to sip, while the reproductive structures extend beyond the tube so the head and upper body of the bird brush both the anthers, picking up pollen, and the stigma, depositing pollen from a previous flower. Copious nectar satisfies the bird while abundant pollen assures that bird transfers plenty of pollen to the next flower.

fuscia-flowered gooseberry branches against blue sky
single pink fuscia-flowered gooseberry blossom hanging against blue sky
prickly pods of the browning fuscia-flowered gooseberry

Human Uses

Although the berries of the fuchsia-flowered gooseberry contain tannins39 that give them a bitter taste, they were eaten by several tribes of native Californians, including the Luiseño in the Oceanside area.17 We have not found a reference to their use by the Kumeyaay.

The general approach for the spiny gooseberries was to use a long stick to knock the berries into a basket. Prickles on the fruit were rubbed off with another basket or with rocks, or they were singed off over hot coals.75

The gooseberries and currants common in modern products are mostly cultivars of European species.41

lone fuscia-flowered gooseberry tree covered in prickly pods
cluster of prickly pink pods on the branch of the fuscia-flowered gooseberry
opening blossoms of the fuscia-flowered gooseberry

Interesting Facts

The relationship between fuchsia-flowered gooseberries and hummingbirds is mutually beneficial. The gooseberries depend on hummingbirds for pollination while hummingbirds depend on gooseberries for energy during migration. Hummingbirds appear to synchronize their migration to the bloom period of a small group native flowers, which includes several members of the gooseberry genus.136 One species of hummingbird relies entirely upon the fuchsia-flowered gooseberry during a prolonged rest stop on its northward migration,23 and it is hypothesized that the early breeding of the Anna Hummingbird evolved to take advantage of the early flowering gooseberries.27

pink blossoms of the fuschia-flowered goosberry

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