Thursday, September 22, 2011

A gooseberry slope north of Donner Lake in the Sierra Nevada

Their name gives a hint: Sierra gooseberries grow at places in the Sierra Nevada, California [1]. The steep slopes and lush creeks north of Donner Lake make such a location, where low-growing  gooseberries spread between occasional pine trees, manzanitas and other shrubs. Gregory Creek and the chaparral-like stretches of the Donner Lake Rim Trail (DLRT) are excellent areas to find gooseberry bushes next to the trail. During mid-September this year, I found juicy red, ripe berries at low elevation and soon-to-be-ripe ones at higher elevation. The level of ripeness is indicated by color change from yellow to red (see pictures). The berries look like little spiny balls of fire. You don't want to pick them without gloves. The German name for gooseberry is, perfectly fitting, Stachelbeere, meaning spine-berry. Yet, German Stachelbeeren—being hairy, but not spiny—can be touched and eaten without pain, while the Grossulariaceae species of the Sierra need some elaborated techniques.

Not afraid of giving Sierra gooseberries a try? Hank Shaw wrote a mouth-watering article about berries in the Sierra Nevada and how to prepare and taste them [2]. He raves about the delicious, fruity pulp and the intoxicating aroma of ripe Sierra gooseberries and provides—assuming you have a potato smasher at home—some ideas of what can be created from those prickly balls, including berry tarts and pink gooseberry sorbet. What about a gooseberry electrolyte sports drink for the next field trip?

Sierra gooseberries are wind pollinated. Their flowers are bisexual and their seeds are dispersed by animals such as black bears and rodents. Sierra gooseberry plants also regenerate asexually by layering and sprouting from the root crowns [3]. Their scientific name is Ribes Roezlii, referring to Benedikt Roezl (1823-1885), a Czech gardener and botanist, who traveled around the Americas to collect orchids and other plants, some of them now named in his honor [4,5].

Reference and more to explore
[1] USDA Plants Profile: Ribes roezlii Regel - Sierra gooseberry [].
[2] Hank Shaw: Berries of the Sierra Nevada [].
[3] Ribes roezlii [].
[4] Jan Vytopil: Benedikt Roezl 1823-1885 [].
[5] Wikipedia: Benedikt Roezl [].

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