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Missouri Environment & Garden


Michele Warmund
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology
(573) 882-9632

Gooseberry: A Small but Mighty Fruit with a Past

Michele Warmund
University of Missouri
(573) 882-9632

Published: June 3, 2021

Gooseberry is a small deciduous shrub with edible fruit that is often grown by "baby boomers" or earlier generations. Although the European gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa) is an ancient fruit, it became most popular in Europe and the United States during the 1800's and early 1900's. As early as the 1740's gooseberry clubs were organized in Britain. These clubs sponsored annual competitions where growers displayed their gooseberries and offered prizes for the largest or most flavorful fruit. These events sparked interest in developing new cultivars and competitive growing of gooseberries spread throughout England and Scotland. However, during World War I, gooseberry production declined and never regained the same level of pre-war popularity.

Only a few gooseberry societies remain today. In Cheshire England, there are eight active societies around Goostrey village. The oldest club is the Egton Bridge Gooseberry Society, which still holds competitions. At this show, growers compete for prizes in various categories of red, green, yellow and white colored berries and single, twin, triplet gooseberries.  Berries are measured using penny weights and grains. The largest gooseberry recorded by the Egton Bridge Gooseberry Society is a yellow-colored, 41 pennyweight (12 grains or 63.7 grams) Millennium gooseberry . For more information about gooseberry clubs and award-winning fruit see: https://goosegogs.wordpress.com/history-2/.

In the United States, there are about fifty native species of Ribes, including the American gooseberry (R. hirtellum). In Missouri,  American gooseberry produces a fruit that is very tart at the immature, green stage when harvested in June (Figure 1).  However, fruit becomes sweeter when picked  later. Gooseberries can be used alone or mixed with other small fruits in pies, jams, sauces, or as a  flavorant in beverages. The native Missouri gooseberry (Ribes missouriense) can be found throughout this state, except for 10 counties (primarily in the southeast). This wild species produces fruit considerably smaller (1/4 inch-diameter) and the spines on shoots (as long as ¾ inch-long) are usually longer than those of improved American gooseberry cultivars.

Figure 1 American gooseberry fruit at the immature stage ready for harvest.

American gooseberry is well adapted to Missouri. Plants survive cold winter temperatures and thrive under humid spring and summer conditions in full sun to partial shade. They are a low-maintenance fruit crop, requiring annual dormant pruning, light fertilization, and irrigation during droughty periods in summer. Several hardy cultivars are available from nurseries, but Pixwell consistently bears high fruit yields. Large-fruit-bearing European gooseberry cultivars, such as Hinnonmaki Red and Invicta, can also be grown in Missouri, but are not as winter-hardy as American types (Figure 2).

Figure 2 Shoot of Hinnomaki Red bearing gooseberries.

There are few troublesome pests that damage American gooseberry in Missouri. Occasionally, aphids feed on the foliage or stinkbugs scar the fruit. Also, fungal diseases can infect plants, such as gooseberry mildew (Sphaerotheca mors-uvae), botrytis dieback or gray mold fruit rot (Botrytis cinerea), anthracnose (Drepanopeziza ribis), or Septoria leaf spot (Mycosphaerella ribis). Mildew symptoms appear as white, powdery patches on young leaves and stems or as black specks on fruit usually under cool growing conditions in early spring or late fall. Botrytis symptoms include a grayish-colored mold on leaves, stems, or berries and can cause premature fruit drop. Anthracnose symptoms first appear as small black spots on leaves, but they enlarge and become more angular later, before dropping prematurely. Plants can become infected with anthracnose throughout the growing season, which eventually weakens plant growth and reduces berry size. Septoria leaf spot symptoms resemble those of anthracnose, with spots most visible in June. Another fungal disease, white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola), is not problematic in Missouri. However, because gooseberry is an alternate host for this disease, which is highly destructive to multiple white pine species, the planting of some or all gooseberry cultivars is prohibited in some states. Restrictions regarding the planting of gooseberry and other Ribes species can be found by each state's Department of Agriculture.

To prevent plant infections, select disease-resistant gooseberry cultivars and use adequate spacings between plants. When plants are three years-old or older, thin out some of the larger branches annually during dormant pruning to promote rapid drying of foliage later in the growing season. Also, remove weeds that compete with gooseberry plants for soil moisture and light. Harvest gooseberries frequently to prevent fruit rot and remove dead foliage beneath plants where pathogens can overwinter. In rare cases, fungicides may be warranted.

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REVISED: June 3, 2021