The gooseberry Ribes uva-crispa (syn. R. grossularia) is a species of Ribes, native to Europe, northwestern Africa and southwestern Asia. It is one of several similar species in the subgenus Grossularia; for the other related species (e.g., North American Gooseberry Ribes hirtellum), see the genus page Ribes.
Although usually placed as a subgenus within Ribes, a few taxonomists treat Grossularia as a separate genus, although hybrids between gooseberry and blackcurrant (e.g., the Jostaberry) are possible. The subgenus Grossularia differs somewhat from currants, chiefly in their spiny stems, and in that their flowers grow one to three together on short stems, not in racemes.
The gooseberry is a straggling bush
growing to 1-3 meters (3-10 feet) tall, the branches being thickly set with sharp spines, standing out singly or in diverging tufts of two or three from the bases of the short spurs or lateral leaf shoots. The bell-shaped flowers are produced, singly or in pairs, from the groups of rounded, deeply-crenated 3 or 5 lobed leaves. The fruit of wild gooseberries is smaller than in the cultivated varieties, but is often of good flavour; it is generally hairy, but in one variety smooth, constituting the R. uva-crispa
of writers; berries' colour is usually green, but occasionally deep purple berries occur.
The gooseberry is indigenous in Europe and western Asia, growing naturally in alpine thickets and rocky woods in the lower country, from France eastward, well into the Himalayas and peninsular India.
In Britain, gooseberry bushes are often found in copses and hedgerows and about old ruins, but the gooseberry has been cultivated for so long that it is difficult to distinguish wild bushes from feral ones, or where the gooseberry fits into the native flora of the island. Common as it is now on some of the lower slopes of the Alps of Piedmont and Savoy, it is uncertain whether the Romans were acquainted with the gooseberry, though it may possibly be alluded to in a vague passage of Pliny the Elder's Natural History; the hot summers of Italy, in ancient times as at present, would be unfavourable to its cultivation. Although gooseberries are now abundant in Germany and France, it does not appear to have been much grown there in the Middle Ages, though the wild fruit was held in some esteem medicinally for the cooling properties of its acid juice in fevers; while the old English name, Fea-berry, still surviving in some provincial dialects, indicates that it was similarly valued in Britain, where it was planted in gardens at a comparatively early period.
William Turner describes the gooseberry in his Herball, written about the middle of the 16th century, and a few years later it is mentioned in one of Thomas Tusser's quaint rhymes as an ordinary object of garden culture. Improved varieties were probably first raised by the skilful gardeners of Holland, whose name for the fruit, Kruisbezie, may have been easily corrupted into the present English vernacular word. Towards the end of the 18th century the gooseberry became a favourite object of cottage-horticulture, especially in Lancashire, where the working cotton-spinners have raised numerous varieties from seed, their efforts having been chiefly directed to increasing the size of the fruit.
Of the many hundred sorts enumerated in recent horticultural works, few perhaps equal in flavour some of the older denizens of the fruit-garden, such as the old rough red
and hairy amber
. The climate
of the British Islands
seems peculiarly adapted to bring the gooseberry to perfection, and it may be grown successfully even in the most northern parts of Scotland
where it is commonly known as a "grozet"; indeed, the flavour of the fruit is said to improve with increasing latitude. In Norway
, the bush flourishes in gardens on the west coast nearly up to the Arctic
circle, and it is found wild as far north as 63°. The dry summers of the French and German plains are less suited to it, though it is grown in some hilly districts with tolerable success. The gooseberry in the south of England will grow well in cool situations, and may be sometimes seen in gardens near London
flourishing under the partial shade of apple trees
; but in the north it needs full exposure to the sun to bring the fruit to perfection. It will succeed in almost any soil
, but prefers a rich loam or black alluvium, and, though naturally a plant of rather dry places, will do well in moist land, if drained.
The varieties are most easily propagated by cuttings planted in the autumn, which root rapidly, and in a few years form good fruit-bearing bushes. Much difference of opinion prevails regarding the mode of pruning this valuable shrub; it is probable that in different situations it may require varying treatment. The fruit being borne on the lateral spurs, and on the shoots of the last year, it is the usual practice to shorten the side branches in the winter, before the buds begin to expand; some reduce the longer leading shoots at the same time, while others prefer to nip off the ends of these in the summer while they are still succulent.
When large berries are desired, plenty of nutrients, such as compost, should be applied to the soil, and the greater portion of the berries picked off while still unripe to allow the remaining fruit to enlarge. If standards are desired, the gooseberry may be with advantage grafted or budded on stocks of some other species of Ribes, R. aureum, the ornamental golden currant of the flower garden, answering well for the purpose. The giant gooseberries of the Lancashire fanciers are obtained by the careful culture of varieties specially raised with this object, the growth being encouraged by abundant manuring, and the removal of all but a very few berries from each plant. Single gooseberries of nearly 2 oz. in weight have been occasionally exhibited; but the resulting berries of such fanciful horticulture is generally insipid.
The bushes at times suffer much from the ravages of the caterpillars
of the gooseberry or magpie moth
, Abraxas grossulariala
, which often strip the branches of leaves in the early summer, if not destroyed before the mischief is accomplished. The most effectual way of getting rid of this pretty but destructive insect is to look over each bush carefully, and pick off the larvae by hand; when larger they may be shaken off by striking the branches, but by that time the harm is generally done; the eggs are laid on the leaves of the previous season. Equally annoying in some years is the smaller larva
of the V-moth, Semiothisa wauaria
, which often appears in great numbers, and is not so readily removed. The gooseberry is sometimes attacked by the grub of the Gooseberry sawfly
) of which several broods appear in the course of the spring and summer, and are very destructive. The grubs bury themselves in the ground to pass into the pupal state; the first brood of flies, hatched just as the bushes are coming into leaf in the spring, lay their eggs on the lower side of the leaves, where the small greenish larvae bugs soon after emerge. For the destruction of the first broods it has been recommended to syringe the bushes with tar-water, although a very weak solution of carbolic acid might prove more effective. The powdered root of white hellebore
is said to destroy both this grub and the caterpillars of the gooseberry moth and V-moth; infusion of foxglove
, and tobacco
-water, are likewise tried by some growers. If the fallen leaves are carefully removed from the ground in the autumn and burnt, and the surface of the soil turned over with the fork or spade, most eggs and chrysalids will be destroyed.
Spraying the plants with potassium sulfide has been found useful in fending off a variety of further parasites and fungi (such as the American gooseberry mildew
) which may attack gooseberries specifically.
Like other Ribes, the gooseberry serves as an alternate host for white pine blister rust, which can cause serious damage to white pines. For this reason, there are laws against gooseberry cultivation in some places.
The first part of the word has been usually treated as an etymological
corruption either of the Dutch
or the allied German Krausbeere
, or of the earlier forms of the French groseille
. Alternatively the word has been connected to the Middle High German krus
(curl, crisped), in Latin as grossularia
, and in Indian languages such as amla
(Hindi) or amalaka
However, the New English Dictionary takes the obvious derivation from goose and berry as probable; the grounds on which plants and fruits have received names associating them with animals are so often inexplicable that the inappropriateness in the meaning does not necessarily give good grounds for believing that the word is an etymological corruption.
The term 'gooseberry' is also slang
for a third person accompanying (i.e., tagging along with) a couple on a date.