Christmas Trees and Currants May Someday Grow in More StatesBy Kathryn Barry Stelljes
December 31, 1998
Gooseberry pie or currant jam may be in your future holiday menus if researchers are successful. Their goal: develop currant and gooseberry varieties with resistance to a disease called white pine blister rust.
The rust lives first in white pines and other five-needle pine species, then moves to currants and their relatives, then back to the pines. It doesn't bother currants much but can kill some pine trees. White pines are important to the lumber, landscape and Christmas tree industries. In an attempt to stop the spread of the disease, the U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibited commercial production of European cultivated currants from 1909 to 1966. Restrictions still exist in 15 states.
Now Agricultural Research Service scientists at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Ore., along with researchers in several states and Canada, are looking for a genetic solution. They've identified several currant and gooseberry cultivars that resist the disease, and they're conducting a series of tests to quantify that resistance. They're also working with foresters who are producing disease-resistant white pine seedlings for reforestation.
Currants have shiny, translucent berries whose color ranges from black to deep red to clear. Native to North America and Europe, they are unrelated to the raisin-like Zante currants, made from grapes. Currants and their larger-fruited relatives, gooseberries, are popular in jams, juices, pastries and liqueurs in Europe. They are high in vitamin C and flavonoids, compounds being investigated for health benefits and nutraceutical properties. Currants and gooseberries grow best in the northern U.S.
A story about the research appears in the December issue of the agency's Agricultural Research magazine and on the web at:
ARS is USDA's chief scientific agency.