Is this plant…
- native to my state?
- enticing to hummingbirds?
- inviting to fruit-eating birds?
- attractive to bees and other pollinators?
- found on Missouri glades?
- easy to cultivate?
- not so tall that it will obscure the view of the garden?
The blooms have the tubular shape typical of hummingbird-pollinated flowers. Stokes Hummingbird Book (Don & Lillian Stokes, 1989) has a concise summary of the characteristics of the plants in this "exclusive club":
- tube or trumpet-shaped blooms that produce nectar at the base of the tube
- flowers are usually red
- blooms point downward
- flowers have small petals, without a "landing platform" for insects
- flowers produce no fragrance
Let's see… Golden Currant has a tube-shaped bloom, which—in the interest of bringing you the facts—I munched. It was a little sweet, but then, it's a little flower. The flowers are deep yellow, though as the bloom matures, the tips of the corolla show rusty red. On my bushes, the most of the flowers point upward. The petals are tiny. The blooms are wonderfully fragrant. Color me confused. Which pollinator is the plant trying to attract?
Hummingbird Gardens: Attracting Nature's Jewels to Your Backyard (Newfield and Nielsen, 1996) recommends several species of Ribes, including R. odoratum as hummingbird plants, in the chapters on western gardens. I even found this photo of an Anna's Hummingbird visiting currant blooms in California.
I have not seen a hummer at my currant bushes, but I don't usually see them this early in the season. I have seen lots of bees though. I grabbed my close-focus binoculars—the ones I use for butterfly watching—and had a chance to observe the bees closely. Because they have shiny black abdomens, I judged them to be Eastern Carpenter Bees. Some were males with yellow mouth parts that give them a comic, bucktoothed expression. I couldn't really tell what they were doing inside the flower, but carpenter bees are long-tongued, and should be capable of reaching the base of the bloom to lap up the nectar.
Golden Currant's natural range in my state, according to Shrubs and Woody Vines of Missouri (Kurz, 1997), includes only 4 counties: Shannon, Barry, Stone, and Taney. All of these are deep in the Ozarks, and feature dolomite or limestone glades and bluffs. Some sources call it Ribes aureum var. villosum, but list Ribes odoratum as a western species. Searching for R. odoratum often redirects to R. aureum, so I don't know if there is a difference in distribution across the continent, or just name confusion because of a change in botanical classification.
The USDA's site says that the Kiowa used the plant (whether leaves, fruit, or bark is not given) as a remedy for snake bite. The Kiowa believed this remedy was so effective that snakes were afraid of the currant bush. I haven't seen any rattlers near my bushes either! Many tribes used the fruit in the Native American version of the energy bar, pemmican. I'm hoping my bushes produce fruit this year—you'll need 2 to produce fruit—which I'll be glad to see the birds gobble up.