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common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

Posted in Species Profiles

Description: Woody shrubs can grow to trees reaching 20 feet tall. Distinctive yellow sapwood with pink/orange heartwood. Grey/brown bark with light lenticels giving bark a speckled appearance. Leaves 1-3 inches long, dark green and glossy. Cream-colored flowers blossom in May-June lead to purple/black fruits ripening July-September.

Habitat: Common buckthorn grows in upland woodlands, prairies, and fields.

Invasive Traits: Shrubs leaf out before many other species and hold leaves longer into the fall, shading out native species on the forest floor. Buckthorn lacks natural predators allowing it to thrive.

Control: Small populations can be effectively removed by hand pulling and digging as long as root systems are removed to prevent re-sprouting. Mowing will trigger rigorous re-sprouting and must be repeated regularly. Foliar spray is effective during growth season. Cut stem and basal bark treatments are effective in controlling thicker shrubs. Herbicides approved for use in aquatic systems are recommended.

Further Reading

USDA Forest Service “Common Buckthorn: Rhamnus cathartica L.”

USDA Forest Service “Common Buckthorn and Glossy Buckthorn” 

Pennsylvania DCNR “Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)”

Pennsylvania DCNR “Glossy Buckthorn (Frangula alnus)”

Wieseler 2005