Hillside gooseberries

Hillside gooseberries hang by the side of our trails. Indeed they’ve been hanging there for months, uneaten. While their congeners, the chaparral currants were snapped up as soon as they ripened. There’s nothing toxic about the gooseberries, why doesn’t anything eat them?

Admittedly the gooseberries have spines that are somewhat intimidating, but the plant wants (if you’ll excuse the teleology) for its fruit to be eaten, presumably something evolved to do so.

So one day I picked one, and brought it home. The spines are prickly and I didn’t want to put it in my mouth. To postpone the awful moment, I checked the toxic plant website to reassure myself that these were not on it. They weren’t. But the spines were still prickly.

So I stared at it some more. Eventually I took a knife to it, cut it open and squeezed the insides into my mouth (I know, you probably lose all the vitamins that way). The berry was overripe.

If the berry tasted overripe to me then I presume it would to other potential eaters. Which makes me think that whatever used to feed on it is locally extinct. Since the plant is about as common as its congeners, I presume the extinction was recent (and not the result of the loss of the megafauna ten thousand years ago) which suggests bears to me.

Which suggests that a goosebery bush in the backcountry would be less likely to have fruit than one in the frontcountry. I need to check.

Or there is the possibility that the plant makes (sorry) its fruits difficult to eat so that it’s the only thing available in August or September and somehow this uniqueness gives it an advantage… Though I would expect, if that were the case, that the fruit wouldn’t taste overripe.

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2 Responses to “Hillside gooseberries”

  1. Adger Says:

    The crabapples on our crabapple tree sit there all summer long and are available in winter/early spring, but I don’t know that they ever taste good to a human palate. But we might not have the right stomach enzymes or what ever it is for efficient seed dispersal for a crabapple.

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