The Hunt For Mountain Gooseberry
By Andrew Weidman | Apr 25, 2016
I admit it: I’m a gooseberry fanatic. I can’t exactly explain why. Maybe it’s because gooseberries are mysterious, unknown, and exotic. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’ve always been a sucker for the mysterious, unknown and exotic. Or maybe it’s because there are some exceptional gooseberries out there.
I’m also a fan of old books, especially old gardening and orchard books. Close to a decade ago I came across a passage in a fruit guide, Small Fruit Culturist by A. S. Fuller, written in 1885, that praised a Shaker gooseberry named ‘Mountain,’ developed in Lebanon PA.
I live in Lebanon, and had never heard of any Shaker establishments here. A quick aside: apparently, every state has at least one Lebanon; Pennsylvania has two, Lebanon in the Southeast, and Mount Lebanon in the Western half of the state. Also, we pronounce ours ‘Leb-nin,’ unlike the country of ‘Leb-ann-on.’ We can always tell when someone is a native of the area, just by how they say the name.
Back to Mountain and this never before heard-of Shaker community. A little more digging, this time online, revealed that the author was … geographically confused. He was referring to the community of Mount Lebanon, located in New York State. Not Pennsylvania.
I also discovered two references to Mountain in recently published books on the subject, both praising its qualities. Just to make things a bit more confusing, there is also a native wild gooseberry, a different species growing in the west, known as the mountain gooseberry. No one ever said online detective work would be easy to wade through.
After contacting the authors of both modern books, asking where I could find a Mountain gooseberry of my own, I learned that neither author had actually grown it, and had no idea where to find it. I did, however, get a few new leads to follow, including addresses for scholars specializing in Shaker history. These leads brought me to the extremely unfortunate and inconvenient discovery that Mountain had been allowed to go extinct in America, a victim of the early Twentieth Century Ribes purge.
Mountain still lives in the Royal Horticultural Gardens of Denmark. It may as well be growing on the Moon. International plant law keeps it completely out of my reach. It has been reintroduced to the United States, and is growing here once again, at Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire. It still may as well be on the Moon, thanks to New Hampshire’s ban on gooseberry sales and transport. Even so, at least it has come back home to America
Maybe I can one day grow Mountain in Lebanon PA. Maybe.
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