Can I Grow Gooseberries or Currants in NC?
9/16/2020 – The short answer is “no.” You cannot legally grow currants or gooseberries in North Carolina. The reason is that these plants serve as alternate hosts for White Pine Blister Rust. This imported disease destroyed white pine forests across the northeastern United States in the early 1900s. This unusual disease does not spread from white pine to white pine; it has to go through an alternate host plant in the genus Ribes. Ribes is a big genus containing many species, but currants and gooseberries are the most common ones in the genus to serve as alternate hosts for white pine blister rust.
On gooseberries and currants, the rust causes leaf spots and strange-looking orange structures on the backs of the leaves (see pictures in the attached document), and may lead cause premature defoliation. But, when white pines are infected, they usually die.
Nurseries in North Carolina are prohibited from selling any Ribes species, including gooseberries or currants, but many gardeners buy plants online from out of state nurseries who may not be aware of the regulations. If you are aware of any gooseberries or currants being offered for sale in North Carolina or in cultivation, you are asked to contact one of the plant pest specialists listed in the attached document. Any gooseberries or currants planted in North Carolina should be destroyed.
White pines are important species in our forests and many landowners in North Carolina have white pine plantations. Let’s help protect these trees by not growing gooseberries and currants. There are breeders working to create rust-resistant varieties; so hopefully, this ban won’t last forever.
For more information, here is a recent pest alert on the topic, complete with pictures, created by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: 2020 Gooseberries currants WPBR_NCDA&CS PID Pest Alert Ribes
The active regulation is:
SECTION .0400 -WHITE PINE BLISTER RUST02 NCAC 48A .0401 CURRANT AND GOOSEBERRY PLANTS
(a) All wild and cultivated currant and gooseberry plants in North Carolina are hereby declared to be dangerous plants and are consequently subject to destruction by the Commissioner of Agriculture or authorized agents wherever found. (b) No person shall knowingly and willfully keep upon his premises any currant or gooseberry plant, or permit such plants to mature seed or otherwise multiply upon his land.
History Note: Authority G.S. 106-65.45; 106-65.46; 106-284.18; 106-420; Eff. January 1, 1985.