Leonard loves fruit pies. So when he noticed the desert gooseberries (Ribes velutinum) in the lanes between our pastures were ripe, he picked enough of the berries for a deep-dish pie – a feat in itself since desert gooseberries are so small.
Desert gooseberry is a stout, rigidly branched shrub that sometimes almost appears creeping. The stems have long, sharp spines at the leaf nodes. The spines are formed from the plant’s leaf material.
The simple, alternate leaves are roundish in outline. The leaves are usually deeply clefted into five lobes with each lobe often three-clefted. The petioles (stalks) are shorter than the blades and the entire leaf is lightly pubescent (with soft, downy hairs).
The whitish to yellowish desert gooseberry flowers occur singly or in clusters of up to four blooms. There are five spreading sepals centered with five shorter, erect petals. The five stamens alternate with the petals. The inferior, single-celled ovary is softly pubescent.
The edible fruit is covered with a blush of pubescence. This pulpy berry with several seeds is originally a yellow green color and ripens to a dark purple.
A native plant, desert gooseberry inhabits dry slopes in sagebrush, mountain brush communities, coniferous forests and woodlands in the Great Basin and adjacent mountains of the Western United States between 2,500 and 8,500 feet.
Desert gooseberry is considered fair forage for livestock. The fruit is eaten by birds, deer and chipmunks – and humans. Rodents burrow at the base of desert gooseberry plants where the roots help stabilize the walls of their burrows and tunnels.
Also commonly known as plateau gooseberry, the genus name of R velutinum comes from an old Persian word to the Syrian or Kurdish “ribas” meaning acid-tasting. The derivation of the species designation is the Latin “vellus” /fleece and refers to the silky pubescence covering the leaves, ovary and seeds. Some taxonomists place all gooseberries, including desert gooseberry, in the genus Grossularia.
The blossoming plants were photographed in April at Ash Creek Wildlife Area on the flanks of Pilot Butte. The fruits were picked in August on our ranch. Both locations are in Modoc County near Lookout CA.
Now to get that desert gooseberry pie out of the oven. . . .