Hillside Gooseberry

Hillside Gooseberry © KKorbholz

California Gooseberry
Ribes californicum var. californicum

Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)

  • Eudicotyledon
    • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • Gooseberry Family (Grossulariaceae)
  • Deciduous shrub
  • 3-4 leaves in a cluster
    • Lobed with toothed margins
    • Not sticky (nonglandular)
  • 3 spines (sharp-pointed modified leaves) at nodes (junction of leaf and stem)
    • Sometimes with bristles (short, stiff hairs)
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) a raceme (unbranched stem with stalked flowers opening from the bottom up) of 1-3 pendent flowers
    • Sepals (usually green, outer flower parts) are showy, white to green with a rosy tinge, and upwardly-reflexed
    • Petals are white or pink, fused, and in-rolled
    • Stamens (male flower parts) and pistils (female flower parts) are exserted (extending beyond petals}
    • Sepals, petals, and stamens (male flower parts) fused at base into a cup-like structure (hypanthium)
    • Ovary inferior (below the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit a berry (a usually multi-seeded fruit with a fleshy ovary wall) with bristles; red and translucent in maturity
  • Height to 4.6 ft.


  • Native and endemic (limited) to California
    • Grows in forest openings, woodlands, and chaparral
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Grows at elevations to 2,400 ft.
Fruit © DSchiel

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Wildlife
    • Bristles on the fruit do not prevent birds and mammals from eating the berries
    • Larval food source (host) for tailed copper butterfly caterpillar (Lycaena arota)
  • Native People (for Ribes species) (Anderson 2005)
    • Berries were gathered and eaten whole or mashed
      • Bristles could be singed off by tossing in a basket with hot coals
    • Young shoots were used for making arrows
    • Bushes were actively managed by pruning and burning, stimulating many positive effects
      • Vigorous and straighter shoots
      • Larger and more numerous fruits
      • Less congested canopies
      • Reduced insect infestations
      • Recycled nutrients

Name Derivation

  • Ribes (RIE-bees) – from the Arabic for a shrub with acidic fruit
  • Gooseberry – from possible corruption of a Dutch (kruisbezie), German (Krausbeere), or French (groseille) word


  • Sepals (usually green, outer flower parts) are the showy part of the flower
  • Flowers, leaves, and spines arise from the same node
  • Spines on stems help deter herbivory
    • Spines are sharp-pointed modified leaves, as on cacti and at Edgewood on gooseberries, or leaf parts, as on leather oaks
    • Prickles grow from the outer layers (epidermis) of plant stems, as on roses and blackberries
    • True thorns are sharp-pointed modified stems, as grow on citrus trees and at Edgewood on chaparral pea (Pickeringia montana var. montana)
  • Edgewood’s hillside gooseberry is classified as a variety
    • Variety indicates a population with small morphological variations, e.g. color, seen throughout the geographic range of the species; interbreeding is possible
    • Subspecies indicates a geographically-separated population with distinct morphological characteristics; when not isolated, interbreeding is possible
    • In practice, botanists have not consistently applied these ranks

ID Tips

  • May be confused with three other Ribes species at Edgewood, though only hillside gooseberry is seen commonly along trails
    • Canyon gooseberry (R. menziesii var. menziesii)
      • Observable only down the Sylvan spur trail
    • Chaparral currant (R. malvaceum)
      • Observable only in the Native Garden
    • Pink-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum)
      • Observable at the outer parking area along Cordilleras Creek
      • This species was planted as part of a restoration effort and does not grow natively in Edgewood
Hillside GooseberryCanyon GooseberryChaparral CurrantPink-flowering Currant

sometimes bristles¹

usually bristles¹
no spines

no bristles¹
no spines

no bristles¹
Leavesnot hairy

not glandular (sticky)

glandular (sticky)

glandular (sticky)

not glandular (sticky)
Inflorescence1-3 flowers1-3 flowers10-25 flowers10-20 flowers
Sepalsgreen or pink-tingedpurplepink to purplered
Fruitred, translucent


dense bristles
blue-black, glaucus²

purple, glaucus²

Seen at Edgewoodcommonon Sylvan spur trailnative gardenouter parking area, along Cordilleras Creek
¹ Bristles: short, stiff hairs
² Glaucus: covered with a white to gray waxy coating
Spines © DSchiel

See General References

At Edgewood

  • Found in chaparral and woodlands
    • See iNaturalist for observations of Ribes californicum
  • Flowers January – April

Specific References

Allen, T.J., et al. 2005. Caterpillars in the Field and Garden. Oxford University Press.

Anderson, M.K. 2005. Tending the Wild. University of California, Berkeley. Pp. 234-35; 274-80.