A number of years ago when I worked at Strathcona Provincial Park as a naturalist I was leading a guided walk around the Karst Creek Trail when a member of the group made a very interesting discovery. We had been poking along doing some bird watching and looking at all sorts of plants along the edge of the trail. At one point we stopped and I was talking about Pacific Dogwood (which is prolific in this burned over area) when a man, seeing something behind me, commented: “And what’s that shrub with the big berries?”
“That shrub” turned out to be the Gummy Gooseberry (Ribes lobbii). There’s a couple of other members of Ribes on this trail. Red-flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum) is common and Black Gooseberry (Ribes lacustre) can be found along the moist gully of Karst Creek. However, aside from this single shrub, I’ve never been able to find another Gummy Gooseberry on the trail, or elsewhere in the provincial park for that matter. More will probably turn up but until they do, this solitary plant is the only example you’ll likely see. Fortunately it is fairly easy to access and I make a point of visiting it in bloom every year.
Gummy Gooseberry looks a little like Black Gooseberry but the flowers and berries are different – look for Gummy Gooseberry’s dangling rich red fuschia-like flowers, gummy leaves, and large sticky berries later in the summer. I have to confess that I haven’t tried them since this little shrub needs all the help it can get as far as surviving and reproducing in this location goes. In contrast, Black Gooseberry has dangling strands of many saucer-like reddish flowers and black berries. Gummy Gooseberry also usually has just three spines at each node.
Gummy Gooseberry blooms early so late May and early June is probably the best time of year to see it in flower. Keep an eye open for the berries later in the summer. If you happen to be up in Stathcona Provincial Park this summer challenge yourself to find it on the Karst Creek Trail. Here’s a hint for the location – after crossing the Appearing Creek the trail goes through a tunnel of dense young fir. On the far side (going toward the water fall) watch for open, partially overgrown sections on the right hand side of the trail. The single shrub is in one of these openings. It’s easy to miss even if you know it’s there so take your time!
One of the rewards of sharpening one’s nature observation skills is unusual finds like this one. Know what to expect and then noticing something that is not quite right can lead to some goregous discoveries!