Scratch and sniff to ID this currant

Northern Black Currant

Name: Northern Black Currant

Scientific name: Ribes hudsonianum

The name of this shrub is appropriate, but not as memorable as another common name for it. It is also known as Stinking Currant. The leaves and stems have tiny, yellow, resin glands that emit a strong, sweet, unpleasant odor, sometimes described as a "tomcat odor." The problem with the name Stinking Currant is that another species of currant, Ribes bracteosum, is named Stink Currant, which could be confusing, especially since the two are somewhat similar.

Northern Black Currant grows throughout most of Alaska and Canada, and south to Northern California to Northern Utah, and in Minnesota to Michigan. In Oregon it is east of the Cascades, whereas Stink Currant is found west of the Cascades.

The shrub is usually about 3-4 feet high, though it can grow to 6 feet. It has smooth bark with no thorns, and the leaves look much like a 5-lobed maple leaf with toothed edges. The leaves are about 2-3 inches across, and are thin and hairless. The flowers are small and white with 5 petals, and are in oblong clusters of 6 to 15.

The berries are black, about a quarter inch across, with a waxy coating and tiny gland dots. They reportedly have an unpleasant bitter flavor. One Indian tribe in British Columbia referred to them as "toadberries" and did not eat them.

Where to find: This currant bush should be blooming about now at lower to middle elevations in the Blue Mountains, and should not be hard to spot, especially along ditches by the roads or near streams in the woods.

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