Plants in the Ribes genus, commonly known as gooseberries and currants, are an alternate host for a major disease of Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and other species of 5-needled pines, called white pine blister rust (Cronartia ribicolum). Both the pine and Ribes host must be present in order for the disease to complete its life cycle. The rust threatens any pines within a 1/4 mile radius from infected Ribes. Read more at “US Forest Service Fact Sheet on White Pine Blister Rust”,
Introduced into North America in the 1900’s white pine blister rust (WPBR) has been the subject first, of a Federal quarantine, and then, after this quarantine was lifted in the 1960’s, states were allowed to promulgate regulations if they felt it was needed. Massachusetts is one of the states that instituted controlling regulations and carries them on the books to this day. These regulations prohibit the cultivation of black currant (Ribes nigrum) statewide, and limit the cultivation of red and white currant (R. rubrum, R. sativum) and gooseberry (R. uva-crispa, R. hirtellum), are prohibited in certain towns. The list of prohibited towns can be found at http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/agr/legal/regs/330-cmr-9-00.pdf. In order to grow red or white currants or gooseberries in towns where they are allowed, the nurseries that sell plant material must obtain a control area permit from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/agr/farm-products/plants/plant-inspection-laws-and-regulations.html. They may not be grown in towns where they are prohibited.
While some states have allowed the cultivation of black currant varieties that have been deemed ‘immune’ to WPBR, Massachusetts does not allow these varieties. This is important now because it has been determined that a strain of the WPBR pathogen has developed that can overcome the plant resistance found in these ‘immune’ varieties. Read more at “White Pine Blister Rust: A New Strain Has Developed”, http://ag.umass.edu/landscape/fact-sheets/white-pine-blister-rust-ribes-species. States where these varieties were allowed are now reinstating bans on all black currant varieties. Again, Massachusetts regulations have prohibited all black currants, so there is no change effective in the Commonwealth in this regard.