COMMON NAME

Common buckthorn
European buckthorn


FULL SCIENTIFIC NAME

Rhamnus cathartica L.


FAMILY NAME COMMON

Buckthorn family


FAMILY SCIENTIFIC NAME

Rhamnus cathartica


IMAGES


Fruits on branch

Staminate flowers

Fruit and leaves (note incurved veins)

Pistillate Flowers

NOMENCLATURE/SYNONYMS

Synonyms: None


DESCRIPTION

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.


SIMILAR SPECIES

Frangula alnus Mill. (Glossy buckthorn)


REPRODUCTIVE/DISPERSAL MECHANISMS

The seeds of Rhamnus cathartica are dispersed by birds.


DISTRIBUTION

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.


HISTORY OF INTRODUCTION IN 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.


HABITATS IN NEW ENGLAND

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.


THREATS

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.


MANAGEMENT LINKS

Illinois Nature Preserves Commission

Illinois Natural History Survey
General description and management guidelines

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Plant Conservation Alliance
Fact sheet with management information

The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group
Invasive Plant Management Guide


DOCUMENTATION NEEDS

Documentation required: Specific photograph or mounted snippet of the tip of the branches or the leaves.
Best time for documentation: Spring, summer, fall.


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Taxonomic information about the species

Maine Invasive Plants, University of Maine
General information and photographs

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
General information and photographs

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
General information and control

PLANTS database
General information and a map

Illinois Nature Preserves Commission
General information including control and photographs

Plant Conservation Alliance
General information and management


REFERENCES

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.