1902 Encyclopedia > Gooseberry


GOOSEBERRY, Ribes grossularia, a well-known fruit-bush of northern and central Europe, usually placed in the same genus of the natural order to which it gives name as the closely allied currants, but by some made the type of a small sub-genus, Grossularia, the members of which differ from the true currants chiefly in their spinous stems, and in their flowers growing on short footstalks, solitary, or two or three together, instead of in racemes.

The wild gooseberry is a small, straggling bush, nearly resembling the cultivated plant,—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, on which the bell-shaped flowers are produced, singly or in pairs, from the groups of rounded, deeply-crenated 3 or 5-lobed leaves. The fruit is smaller than in the garden kinds, but is often of good flavour; it is generally hairy, but in one variety smooth, constituting the R. uva-crispa of writers; the colour is usually green, but plants are occasionally met with having deep purple berries. The gooseberry is indigenous to the central parts of Europe and western Asia, growing naturally in alpine thickets and rocky woods in the lower country, from France eastward, perhaps as far as the Himalaya. In Britain it is often found in copses and hedgerows and about old ruins, but has been so long a plant of cultivation that it is difficult to decide upon its claim to a place in 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 hot summers of Italy, in ancient times as at present, would be unfavourable to its cultivation. 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. 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 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 oeen easily corrupted into the present English vernacular word. Towards the end of the last 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; indeed, the flavour of the fruit is said to improve with increasing latitude. In Norway even, 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 goose-berry in the south of England will grow well in cool situations, and may be sometimes seen in gardens near IiOndon 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 differ-ence 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 fruit is desired, plenty of manure should be supplied to the roots, and the greater portion of the berries picked oft' while still small. Bur-bidge states that 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 goose-berries 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 ounces in weight have been occasionally exhibited; but the produce of such fanciful horticulture is generally insipid. The bushes at times suffer much from the ravages of the caterpillar of the gooseberry or magpie moth, Abraxas grossidariata, 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, Halias vanaria, which often appears in great numbers, and is not so readily removed. The gooseberry is sometimes attacked by the grub of a fly, Nemalus ribesii, 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 soon after emerge. For the destruction of the first broods it has been recommended to syringe the bushes with tar-water ; perhaps a very weak solution of carbolic acid might prove more effective. The powdered root of white helle-bore is said to destroy both this grub and the caterpillars of the gooseberry 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.

The gooseberry was introduced into the United States by the early settlers, and in some parts of New England large quantities of the green fruit are produced and sold for culinary use in the towns; but the excessive heat of the American summer is not adapted for the healthy maturation of the berries, especially of the English varieties. Perhaps if some of these, or those raised in the country, could be crossed with one of the indigenous species, kinds might be obtained better fitted for American conditions of culture, although the gooseberry does not readily hybridize. The bushes are apt to be infested by a minute fly, known as the gooseberry midge, Cecidomyia grossularice, which lays its eggs in the green fruit, in which the larvae are hatched, causing the berries to turn purple and fall prematurely. According to Mr Fitch, the midge attacks the wild native species as well as the cultivated gooseberry.

The gooseberry, when ripe, yields a fine wine by the fermentation of the juice with water and sugar, the result-ing sparkling liquor retaining much of the flavour of the fruit. By similarly treating the juice of the green fruit, picked just before it ripens, an effervescing wine is pro-duced, nearly resembling some kinds of champagne, and, when skilfully prepared, far superior to much of the liquor sold under that name. Brandy has been made from ripe gooseberries by distillation; by exposing the juice with sugar to the acetous fermentation a good vinegar may be obtained. The gooseberry, when perfectly ripe, contains a large quantity of sugar, most abundant in the red and amber varieties; in the former it amounts to from 6 to upwards of 8 per cent. The acidity of the fruit is chiefly due to malic acid.

Several other species of the sub-genus produce edible fruit, though none have as yet been brought under economic culture. Among them may be noticed R. oxyacanthoides and
R. cynosbati, abundant in Canada and the northern parts of the United States, and R. gracile, common along the Alleghany range. The group is a widely distributed one, species occurring to the west of the Rocky Mountains, and in Siberia and Japan, while one is said to have been found by recent explorers on the lofty Kilimanjaro, near the lake-sources of the Nile. (c. P. J.)


The Scotch grossart, originally grosel, evidently from the French groseille, may have the same ultimate origin ; the usual derivation from grossus, a green fig, seems far-fetched. The rough wild fruit is called by the Germans krausbeere.

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