florida Early Detection Network


Common buckthorn, European buckthorn


Rhamnus cathartica L.


Buckthorn family


Rhamnus cathartica

Fruits on branch

Staminate flowers

Fruit and leaves (note incurved veins)

Pistillate Flowers


Synonyms: None


Botanical Glossary

Rhamnus cathartica is a deciduous small tree or coarse shrub. It grows 2-6 m (6.5-20 ft.) tall. The glabrous branches usually have shoots that are tipped with stout spines. The leaves are opposite to subopposite, elliptic to ovate, 3.6-7.2 cm (1.5-3 in.) long and can be acute or obtuse. They are glabrous and have minutely serrate margins. The lateral veins (usually 3, but can be 2 or 4) on each side are strongly upcurved. The leaves remain on the plant late into the autumn, when most of the native species have already lost their leaves. The fragrant, non-showy yellow-green flowers of Rhamnus cathartica are polygamodioecious, 4-petaled, and are present in clusters of 2-6. These flowers appear in the spring while the leaves are expanding, and are borne near the bases of the leaf stalks. The dark, purple to black fruit are globose drupes, about 0.6 cm (0.25 in.) across, contain 3-4 seeds and appear in the fall. Page References Bailey 645, Fernald 992, Gleason & Cronquist 342, Holmgren 322, Magee & Ahles 724. See reference section below for full citations.


Frangula alnus Mill. (Glossy buckthorn)


The seeds of Rhamnus cathartica are dispersed by birds.


Rhamnus cathartica is native to Europe, north and west Asia. It can also be found in low elevations in Morocco and Algeria. In North America this plant is present from Nova Scotia to Alberta, south to North Carolina and Utah, as well as in California. It is found in all the states of New England.


Rhamnus cathartica was introduced to the United States before 1800, and probably started to invade native habitats around the early 1900's. In Gray's Manual of Botany (Fernald 1950), it is described as "often appearing as if native." This plant was often planted along fence rows, as well as for wildlife shelter.


Abandoned Field, Early Successional Forest, Edge, Floodplain Forest, Open Disturbed Area, Pasture, Planted Forest, Roadside, Vacant Lot, Wet Meadow, Yard or Garden. Rhamnus cathartica can be located in open woods, pastures, fence rows, roadsides, moist and dry upland sites, floodplain and riparian forests and ravines. It grows in well-drained soils, preferring neutral to basic soils. In calcarious situations, it can form extensive monotypic stands.


Rhamnus cathartica has the ability to form dense thickets under which native vegetation cannot survive due to shading and crowding. Many types of birds, as well as small mammals, eat its fruit, easily dispersing it over long distances. Rhamnus cathartica is a threat to agriculture because it is an alternative host for the crown rust of oats. This rust has a major effect on the yield and quality of the crop. Rhamnus cathartica plants can regenerate even after they are cut or burned.


Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group Invasive Plant Management Guide

Illinois Natural History Survey General description and management guidelines.

Plant Conservation Alliance Fact sheet with management information


Documentation required: A specific photograph of a close-up of the flowers or mounted snippet of the flowers. Best time for documentation: Late spring.


Integrated Taxonomic Information System Taxonomic information

The PLANTS Database General information and a map

Plant Conservation Alliance Fact sheet on the bush honeysuckles.

Maine Invasive Plants, University of Maine General information and photographs

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources General information and photographs

University of Connecticut Plants Database General information and many photographs

Illinois Nature Preserves Commission General information including control and photographs

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources General information and control


Archibold, O.W., D. Brooks and L. Delanoy. 1997. An investigation of the invasive shrub European buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica L., near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Canadian Field Naturalist 111 (4): 617-621.

Bailey, L.H. 1949. Manual of Cultivated Plants. Macmillan, New York.

Dirr, M.A. 1983. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. Stipes Publishing Company, Champaign, Illinois.

Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's Manual of Botany 8th edition. American Book Company, New York.

Fire Conference 2000. Proceedings of the Invasive Species Workshop: The Role of Fire in the Control and Spread of Invasive Species. The First National Congress on Fire Ecology, Prevention, and Management. Tall Timbers Research Station, Miscellaneous Publication No. 11.

Gil-ad, N.L. and A.A. Reznicek. 1997. Evidence for hybridization of two Old World Rhamnus species - R-cathartica and R-utilis (Rhamnaceae) - In the New World. Rhodora 99 (897): 1-22.

Gleason, H.A. and A.C. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. 2nd ed. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Heidorn, R. 1991. Vegetation management guideline: exotic buckthorns - common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica L.), glossy buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula L.), and Dahurian buckthorn (Rhamnus davurica Pall.). Natural Areas Journal 11: 216-217.

Holmgren, N.H. 1998. Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Hoffman, R. and K. Kearns. 1998. Wisconsin Manual of Control Recommendations for ecologically invasive plants. Bureau of Endangered Resources, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

Kartesz, J.T. and C.A. Meacham. 1999. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill, NC.

Magee, D.W and H.E. Ahles. 1999. Flora of the Northeast. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst.

Rehder, A. 1940. Manual of Cultivated Trees and Shrubs. Macmillan, New York.

USDA, NRCS. 2001. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.1. (http://plants.usda.gov). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

White, D.J., E. Haber, C. Keddy. 1993. Invasive plants of natural habitats in Canada. Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.