Plant Species of the Bright Angel Trail:
Desert Gooseberry, Ribes velutinum

See Plant Guide to Bright Angel Trail for an introduction to this page.


Identification status: 100%.

There are three Ribes species on this trail. R. cereum is easy to identify since it is a currant, with no spines at the stem nodes.

The other two species are gooseberries, with obvious spines at the nodes. The spines are especially easy to see on the dead branches, and are also easily found by looking at the base of the leaves on the twigs (see pictures below).

These two species are easy to separate in flower or in fully-ripe fruit, since R. velutinum has yellow flowers (both petals and sepals), with a short flower tube that is 1-2 mm long, about as long as it is wide, and a ripe berry that is yellow becoming purple, whereas R. leptanthum has white flowers (both petals and sepals), with a long flower tube that is ~5 mm long, about twice as long as its width, and a ripe berry that is black or dark red.

Note that it is easy to be confused by the length of the flower tube if the sepals are not spreading or reflexed, since erect sepals make the flower appear longer and one may mistake them for being part of the flower tube.

R. velutinum

R. leptanthum

A side-by-side comparison of plants at mile 1.27 is shown below:

R. velutinum (lower left) / R. leptanthum (upper right)

The leaves appear to have a different shape, as seen in the picture on the right immediately above, with the leaf of R. velutinum rounder and more shallowly lobed. However, I have been burned many times on attempting to identify Ribes from their leaf shapes, so I'm reluctant to place too much faith in this distinction except possibly solely on this trail, or this area of the Grand Canyon.

The floras all state that the hairiness of the leaves distinguishes the two species, but it is a very subtle difference at best, requiring a hand lens, and there is no difference at all at worst. The following picture, a blowup of a previous picture, shows the best one can expect:

R. velutinum (lower left) / R. leptanthum (upper right)

Those little white bumps are the base of the hairs. The leaves of R. velutinum, at least for these two specimens, have a bit more of them, especially near the edge of the leaf and along its margin. However, the following picture of a R. leptanthum leaf shows that this difference does not always hold, since it is even hairier along its margin than the leaf of R. velutinum above:

R. leptanthum

It may be that the hairs of R. leptanthum are more easily lost with time, so that herbarium vouchers of plants in fruit show a more dramatic difference. Remember, nearly all botanical keys are based on dried, pressed herbarium specimens, which often differ from live plants.

See Ribes leptanthum for more pictures of that species.

There are two other gooseberry species at the Grand Canyon known only from the North Rim: Ribes montigenum and R. inerme.

From a SEINet search on 11 May 2008, there are six vouchers of this species from the Coconino County portion of the Grand Canyon, including two from this trail. The ones from the trail are at: 1/2 mile below South Rim, elevation 6500 feet; and above second tunnel, elevation 5900 feet. Note that there may be additional vouchers at other herbaria not available through SEINet.

First occurrence on Bright Angel Trail: mile 0.00, elevation 6845 feet (2086 m).

Number of plants along Trail: This species is nearly ubiquitous along the trail down to an elevation of 4700 feet; at least 99 plants were found in at least 9 different locations in May 2008. This species is so common that it shows up by accident in pictures of several other taxa farther along the trail.

This species extends much lower in elevation than the 6500 feet given in the Grand Canyon Flora and in Kearney and Peebles. However, in Utah it is known to extend to 4400 feet, nearly the same as the 4700 feet along this trail.


From 5 September 2007, mile 0.00. This plant is in the shade of the Pinus edulis at the trailhead.

From 4 May 2008, mile 0.00, from a plant just slightly farther along the trail.

From 6 May 2008, mile ~2.2:

From 6 May 2008, mile 3.04, elevation 4700 feet:


See Resources for Grand Canyon Flora for further information on most of these references. Entries in the second column are either the name used in that source or a page reference. The name is linked to online pages when available. If a given reference does not contain this taxon, the entry is either left blank or contains a hyphen.

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Copyright © 2007-2008 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Last Update: 11 May 2008