common buckthorn

Rhamnales > Rhamnaceae > Rhamnus cathartica L.
Synonym(s): European buckthorn

Common buckthorn is a deciduous shrub or small tree that can grow to 25 ft. (7.6 m) in height. The bark is dark gray and the inner bark is orange (easily seen when the tree is cut). Twigs are usually tipped with a sharp spine. The leaf arrangement is usually subopposite, but examples of opposite and/or alternate arrangements are commonly found. Leaves are dark green, oval, 1.5 to 3 in. (3.8-7.6 cm) long, slightly serrate with 3 to 4 pairs of curving veins and a somewhat folded tip. Flowering occurs in the spring, when yellow-green, 4-petaled flowers develop in clusters of 2 to 6 near the base of the petioles. Plants are dioecious (male and female flowers occur on separate plants). Fruits are small, black berries that are 0.25 in. (0.6 cm) in diameter. Common buckthorn invades forests, prairies and savannas in the Midwestern United States and can form dense thickets crowding out native shrubs and understory plants. Once established, it is difficult to remove. Common buckthorn is a native of Europe and was introduced into the United States as an ornamental shrub.


Identification, Biology, Control and Management Resources

  • Weeds of the Week - USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Area, Forest Health Protection

Selected Images from Invasive.org

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Foliage;
Paul Wray, Iowa State University, Bugwood.org
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Foliage; Story, County, IA
Chris Evans, River to River CWMA, Bugwood.org
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Foliage; Leaves often exhibit a curled or crimped look at the tip. Story County, IA
Chris Evans, River to River CWMA, Bugwood.org
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Twig(s)/Shoot(s); Sub-opposite arrangement. South Dakota
Chris Evans, River to River CWMA, Bugwood.org
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Feature(s); Pointed "buckthorn" at the end of the stem. Story, County, IA
Chris Evans, River to River CWMA, Bugwood.org
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Feature(s); Leaf scars and buds
Paul Wray, Iowa State University, Bugwood.org
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Feature(s); Pointed "buckthorn" at the end of a stem. South Dakota
Chris Evans, River to River CWMA, Bugwood.org
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Bark; Young Stem. South Dakota
Chris Evans, River to River CWMA, Bugwood.org
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Bark; Orange-colored underbark. Story, County, IA
Chris Evans, River to River CWMA, Bugwood.org
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Flower(s); Staminate flowers
Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org
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Flower(s); Stroy County, IA
Chris Evans, River to River CWMA, Bugwood.org
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Fruit(s);
Jan Samanek, State Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org
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Fruit(s);
Jan Samanek, State Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org
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Fruit(s);
Paul Wray, Iowa State University, Bugwood.org
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Seed(s);
Steve Hurst, USDA NRCS PLANTS Database, Bugwood.org
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Infestation; On left with bush honeysuckle on right. Story, County, IA
Chris Evans, River to River CWMA, Bugwood.org
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Diagram or Graphic; Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. Illustrated flora of the northern states and Canada. Vol. 2: 502.
USDA PLANTS Database, USDA NRCS PLANTS Database, Bugwood.org
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Invasive Reference(s):

Check Invasive.org for most current lists.
  • Massachusetts - Noxious Weed Law
  • New Hampshire - Noxious Weed Law
  • Vermont - Noxious Weed Law
  • Mid-Atlantic - EPPC List
  • Invasive Plant Atlas of New England


External Links


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