Ribes viburnifolium


This California native stinks. I mean that literally. The foliage has a strong scent, something of a cross between the pine in the forest and those pine air so-called "fresheners" that hang from the rear-view mirrors in smoker's automobiles and add a sweet turpentine tang to the cigarette odor. Yecch! Ribes viburnifolium has a heavy, cloying, and to me, nauseating scent. Not that the foliage isn't nice. And the dainty red translucent berries are pretty. But the plant stinks.

Nice foliage. Stinks.

This is probably a good ground cover or low shrub under native oaks, since it needs shade and can handle very dry soil. We told the original landscaper of the property we were interested in California native plants, and this was one of the five natives we ended up with, along with Alnus rhombifolia, Ceonothus, Baccharis and Cercis occidentalis.

The Alnus (Alder) were the first to go. These are native to stream beds; they have big, aggressive root systems and allow nothing to grow nearby. The landscaper put them a few inches from a block wall where the roots quickly started pushing up the walls and the trunks pressed the wall from the side. Lovely. Long gone. The Ceonothus were likewise planted in a ridiculously inappropriate location, almost up against the back of the house where we needed passage. Unfortunately they too are gone: those, I liked.

Of the natives that remain, the Baccharis are in the process of going, needing a more coastal climate than we can provide, and the Cercis are doomed too. It so happened these three remaining California natives are ones I have no love for, no love at all.

The Ribes was planted as a ground cover on our steepest shady slopes under the Alders, which I replaced with Dodonea viscosa. The Dodonea are not the perfect solution, but better than the Alders. The Ribes would be okay at least if it actually covered the ground, but it doesn't. Weeds grow, and I must weed around the Ribes while inhaling its cloying odor. The Ribes looks best trimmed back once every year or two because old stems linger and become leafless over time. That is also a smelly operation.

The Ribes leaves plenty of space for Geranium madeirense seedlings, that get eaten by something...rabbits?  More stuff to yank:

The Ribes hasn't worked out. I do like the foliage, which is typical California coastal: thick, leathery, and tough, to endure a long dry summer. I just hate the stink. My plan is to slowly remove the Ribes and tapestry the slope with Echeverias and Aloe greatheadii, a short Aloe with a long root system, just the thing to hold a slope. That's the plan, anyway. It may change.

California native plants don't always work out. They are not always as flexible in placement as tried-and-true garden standards that have been successfully planted for hundreds of years in thousands of places. We are just getting started with them a few decades after realizing they are in this climate for a reason.

At this point, much California native plant placement needs to agree at least somewhat with their placement in nature. Riparian trees on a slope next to a wall: no. Foggy central coast scrub in fog free inland heat:   no. A plant that stinks way too close to this nose: no no no!

I've been walking the neighborhood and the nearby wilds. Toyon, Rhus integrifolia and Rhus ovatifolia, Salvia mellifera, and the Holy "Q", Quercus. Those are going to be more approprate here. Eventually...when I get tired of roses.

I'm still working on that. This afternoon, trooper 'Tamora' was looking as sweet as a scoop of peach sherbet:


And grand Mrs. B. R. Cant was at her ravishing best. 


O Lord, make me plant California natives, just not yet!



  1. I know I'm not helping, but I do so enjoy the gorgeous rose pics tucked in and around your blogs…


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