Species distinguishing characteristics:
- Small prickles on stems and larger spines at leaf and branch nodes.
- Maple-shaped leaves with 3–5 deeply cut lobes
- Leaves smooth on the top and glandular hairy on veins on the bottom
- 7–15 pinkish to reddish-purple, disk-shaped flowers in hanging clusters
- Purplish-black berries covered with bristly glandular hairs
- Small, woody shrubs with or without prickles
- Alternate leaves with palmate (hand-like or maple-shaped) lobes or veins
- Flower clusters at the end of the branch
- Flower has 5 separate petals, 5 fused, larger sepals, and 5 pollen stalks (stamens) alternating with the petals
- Several-seeded berries are often covered with resin, stalked glands, or hairs
Deciduous shrub, 0.5–1.5 m tall, with erect to spreading branches.
Leaves and stems:
Light reddish brown stems densely covered with small, thin prickles and larger, thicker spines at the leaf and branch nodes. Alternate leaves, 2–7 cm across, are dark, glossy green and mostly hairless on the upper side, and sparsely glandular hairy on veins on the underside. Leaves are roughly maple-shaped with 3–5 deeply cut lobes and toothed margins.
Hanging, elongated clusters of 7–15 pinkish to reddish-purple, disk-shaped flowers, 6 mm across, at the end of branches. Flowers are somewhat inconspicuous and have glandular hairs on the ovary and stalk.
Hanging clusters of slender-stalked, dark purplish-black, shiny berries, 5–8 mm across, covered with bristly glandular hairs. Berries are edible, but their flavor varies from pleasant to insipid.
Moist areas in open forests, rocky hillsides, avalanche paths, swamps, stream banks, and riparian habitats from low to subalpine elevations. Often found on rotten wood.
Large gooseberry thorns were used by many tribal groups as fishhooks, or as needles for tattooing or removing splinters. The spines can break off into the skin and cause an allergic reaction. All species in the Gooseberry family(Grossulariaceae) are edible, but some are much less palatable than others, and some may cause mild stomach upset. The unpleasant tasting ones often also smell a bit unpleasant. Many tribes ate bristly black currants fresh or cooked, rolling the berries around in a basket of hot coals to singe off the bristles. The juice from berries was used to heal inflammations of all kinds and green, unripe berries were believed to overcome the ill effects of eating spoiled food. Berries can be boiled to make syrup (with sugar) or a tea for treating sore throats. A menthol-flavored tea for treating colds can also be made by boiling or steeping leaves and stems. Commercially, oil pressed from bristly black currant seeds has gamma linolenic acid and is used to treat PMS, diabetes, arthritis, and eczema.
Gooseberry plants are susceptible to white pine blister rust, an introduced fungus that attacks, weakens and often kills members of the Pine Family (Pinaceae) with 5 needles. The fungus alternates throughout its life cycle on Ribes species and Pinus species. Various campaigns to control blister rust by eradicating Ribes species using mechanical methods and herbicides have failed. Ribes species are stimulated to grow from buried seeds after any disturbances that remove shade.