Black Currant Shade Trials

The black currant shade trial is attempting to preemptively begin to answer the question: how well suited are black currants to a shaded, understory environment? This is being researched by applying various levels of shade netting to 4 year old black currant plants at the Woody Perennial Polyculture site. By doing this, estimates of yield and the effects on morphology and physiology will be identified and adaptive changes may be observed that can be used to help identify other species that may qualify as suitable understory crops in WPP systems.


What Are Black Currants?

Black currants are a perennial shrub that is native to Northern Europe and Asia. It grows between 3-6’ tall and is commonly found in understory environments. Due to a disease it shared with the white pine of the logging industry, black currants and others in the Ribes family were banned from production in the US for most of the 20th century. Upon legalization, black currants have had a slow reintroduction in American culinary. In countries where it is known, it is mainly found in juices, jams, and liqueurs. The high levels of vitamin C and anthocyanins have made black currants especially appealing for the growing health market, and their piquant flavor allows for its use a wide range of culinary niches


The importance of understory plantings?

In a Woody Perennial Polyculture system, the understory serves an important role in filling in the many levels of production. However, the understory is a unique area that has limited light penetration due to the larger overstory that captures light first. Due to this unique environment, understory crops need to be selected first and foremost on their ability to produce a harvestable yield in reduced light environments. Black currants have shown good production under reduced light environments and their overall hardiness as a fruit crop makes them a good candidate as an understory crop in these mixed systems.


Where will this take place?

The project is being conducted on buffer rows at the WPP site at the University of Illinois.



Research Objectives

1. Determine the effects of light reduction on the yield of black currants

2. Examine morphological changes in the black currant plants due to shade

3. Examine changes in the harvested berry quality among shade treatments

4. Observe changes in plant health from pest interference


Black currant shade netting

Black currant berries

Black currants shade netting

UIUC Professors

Bruce Branham, Professor of Crop Sciences

Sarah Taylor Lovell, [Lead PI] Associate Professor of Crop Sciences.



Eric Wolske, Masters student in Crop Sciences

Kevin Wolz, Ph.D. student in the Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology



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