By Mindy Kayl
Soon you will notice pink blossoms, filling the branches of spindly shrubs commonly called red flowering currant or Ribes sanguinium. These pink blossoms are the first native flower we see in the San Juan Islands. Their presence announces – spring is on the way.
The humble shrubs’ blossoms develop into a dripping cascade of many flowers all growing from the same stem. Not only beautiful, these nectar producing flowers are an important food source for returning hummingbirds. The hummingbirds we see in the San Juans are migratory, flying to southern climates in winter (there are some instances of individual birds staying through the winter).
The male birds arrive first, and flowering currant nectar is an important part of their diet. This natural food source is a more healthy option than sugar water and is much easier to maintain than a feeder. The pink flowers turn into very dark purple berries that are also an important food source for a variety of wildlife. Though the fruit is edible for humans, it does not taste as good as other wild berries.
Red flowering currants grow in dry open woods, sometimes adjacent to wetlands and tolerate partial shade. They can be grown as part of a formal landscape or added to the edges of woods. The plants are easy to find for purchase at a local nursery, and at the Master Gardener’s bare root plant sale. It is important to plant red flowering currant in the appropriate soil and light conditions, so that your newly purchased plant will flourish.
There is an entire palate of native plants that can provide a natural food source for hummingbirds, and pretty flowers for our human enjoyment. Planting a variety of native shrubs will provide fruits and flowers in your yard from February through November. These native plants are often deer resistant and tolerate our natural water availability, making them a low maintenance landscape feature.
Mindy Kayl is a Wetlands Consultant (www.mindykayl.com)