Rhamnus cathartica L.

European buckthorn

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New England Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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North America Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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Facts About

The cathartic nature of European buckthorn fruits causes birds to rapidly digest, process, and disperse the seeds over broad areas. Thus, this thorny shrub with opposite leaves has spread widely into a variety of habitats. The prominent lateral leaf veins are strongly curved to parallel each other and the rounded leaf margin. Common buckthorn was a popular choice for hedgerows, boundaries, and wildlife cover following its introduction to North American in the late 1700's. Since then, this thicket-forming shrub has come to be regarded as an invasive species.

Habitat

Anthropogenic (man-made or disturbed habitats), forest edges, forests, meadows and fields

Characteristics

Habitat
terrestrial
New England state
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
Growth form
the plant is a shrub (i.e., a woody plant with several stems growing from the base)
Leaf type
the leaf blade is simple (i.e., lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets)
Leaves per node
  • there are two leaves per node along the stem
  • there is one leaf per node along the stem
Leaf blade edges
the edge of the leaf blade has teeth
Leaf duration
the leaves drop off in winter (or they wither but persist on the plant)
armature on plant
  • the plant does not have spines, prickles, or thorns
  • the plant has spines, prickles, or thorns
Leaf blade length
30–65 mm
Leaf blade width
15–30 mm
Leaf stalk
the leaves have leaf stalks
Fruit type (general)
the fruit is fleshy
Bark texture
the bark of an adult plant is thin and smooth
Twig winter color
  • brown
  • purple
Bud scale number
there are three or more scales on the winter bud, and they overlap like shingles, with one edge covered and the other edge exposed
Show All Characteristics
  • Buds or leaf scars
    Bud scale number
    there are three or more scales on the winter bud, and they overlap like shingles, with one edge covered and the other edge exposed
    Bud scar shape (Fraxinus)
    NA
    Collateral buds
    there are no collateral buds on the sides of the branches
    Leaf scar arrangement
    • there are two leaf scars per node on the stem or twig
    • there is one leaf scar per node on the stem or twig
    Superposed buds
    there are no superposed buds on the branch
    Terminal bud
    the branch has a terminal bud on it
    Winter bud scale hairs
    • the winter bud scales are hairy
    • the winter bud scales have no hairs on them
    Winter bud scales
    the winter bud is perulate (partially or completely covered with one or more scales)
    Winter bud shape
    the winter buds are ellipsoid (elliptical in three dimensions)
    Winter bud stalks
    the winter buds have no stalks
  • Flowers
    Carpels fused
    the carpels are fused to one another
    Enlarged sterile flowers
    there are no enlarged sterile flowers on the plant
    Flower petal color
    yellow or green
    Flower symmetry
    there are two or more ways to evenly divide the flower (the flower is radially symmetrical)
    Hairs on ovary (Amelanchier)
    NA
    Hypanthium present
    the flower has a hypanthium
    Inflorescence hairs
    there are no hairs on the inflorescence
    Inflorescence type
    • the flowers grow out of the axil (point where a branch or leaf is attached to the main stem)
    • the inflorescence is a fascicle (compact cluster of flowers)
    Number of pistils
    1
    Ovary position
    the ovary is above the point of petal and/or sepal attachment
    Petal and sepal arrangement
    the flower includes two cycles of petal- or sepal-like structures
    Petal appearance
    the petals are thin and delicate, and pigmented (colored other than green or brown)
    Petal fusion
    the perianth parts are separate
    Sepal cilia (Ilex)
    NA
    Sepal tip glands
    there are no glands at the tips of the sepal lobes
    Sepals fused only to sepals
    the sepals are fused to each other (not other flower parts), at least near their bases
    Stamen number
    4
    Stamen position relative to petals
    the stamens are lined up with the petals (antepetalous)
  • Fruits or seeds
    Berry color
    black
    Fruit type (general)
    the fruit is fleshy
    Fruit type (specific)
    • the fruit is a berry (fleshy, with the wall enclosing one or more sections, with two or more seeds)
    • the fruit is a drupe (fleshy, with a firm inner ovary wall that encloses a single seed)
    Nut with spines (Fagaceae)
    NA
    Wings on fruit
    there are no wings on the fruit
  • Glands or sap
    Sap color
    the sap is clear and watery
    Stalked glands on fruit (Rosa)
    NA
  • Growth form
    Growth form
    the plant is a shrub (i.e., a woody plant with several stems growing from the base)
  • Leaves
    Hairs on underside of leaf blade
    the underside of the leaf has no hairs
    Hairs on upper side of leaf blade
    the upper side of the leaf is not hairy, or has very few hairs
    Leaf blade base shape
    • the base of the leaf blade is cuneate (wedge-shaped, tapers to the base with relatively straight, converging edges), or narrow
    • the base of the leaf blade is rounded
    Leaf blade base symmetry
    • the leaf blade base is asymmetrical
    • the leaf blade base is symmetrical
    Leaf blade bloom
    the underside of the leaf has no noticeable bloom
    Leaf blade edges
    the edge of the leaf blade has teeth
    Leaf blade edges (Acer)
    NA
    Leaf blade flatness
    the leaf is flat (planar) at the edges
    Leaf blade hairs
    NA
    Leaf blade length
    30–65 mm
    Leaf blade scales
    there are no scales on the leaf blades
    Leaf blade shape
    • the leaf blade is elliptic (widest near the middle and tapering at both ends)
    • the leaf blade is oblong (rectangular but with rounded ends)
    • the leaf blade is obovate (egg-shaped, but with the widest point above the middle of the leaf blade)
    • the leaf blade is ovate (widest below the middle and broadly tapering at both ends)
    Leaf blade texture
    the leaf blade is herbaceous (has a leafy texture)
    Leaf blade translucent dots
    there are no translucent dots on the leaf blade
    Leaf blade vein pattern
    the main veins of the leaf blade are pinnate (the secondary veins branch off at intervals from the main central vein) and arcuate (slightly arched in the direction of the tip)
    Leaf blade veins
    the leaf blade has one main vein running from the base toward the tip
    Leaf blade width
    15–30 mm
    Leaf duration
    the leaves drop off in winter (or they wither but persist on the plant)
    Leaf form
    the plant is broad-leaved (with broadly flattened leaf blades)
    Leaf lobe tips (Quercus)
    NA
    Leaf midrib glands
    the midrib of the leaf blade lacks glands on the upper surface
    Leaf stalk
    the leaves have leaf stalks
    Leaf stalk attachment to leaf
    the petiole attaches at the basal margin of the leaf blade
    Leaf stalk nectaries
    there are no nectaries on the leaf stalk
    Leaf stalk shape
    the leaf stalk is not flattened
    Leaf teeth
    the leaf blade margin is crenate (with rounded teeth) or crenulate (with tiny, rounded teeth)
    Leaf teeth hairs (Carya)
    NA
    Leaf type
    the leaf blade is simple (i.e., lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets)
    Leaves per node
    • there are two leaves per node along the stem
    • there is one leaf per node along the stem
    Specific leaf type
    the leaves are simple (i.e., lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets
    Stipules
    the plant has stipules
  • Place
    Habitat
    terrestrial
    New England state
    • Connecticut
    • Maine
    • Massachusetts
    • New Hampshire
    • Rhode Island
    • Vermont
    Specific habitat
    • edges of forests
    • forests
    • man-made or disturbed habitats
    • meadows or fields
  • Scent
    Plant odor
    the plant does not have much of an odor, or it has an unpleasant or repellant odor
  • Stem, shoot, branch
    Aerial roots
    the plant has no aerial roots
    Bark texture
    the bark of an adult plant is thin and smooth
    Branch brittleness (willows only)
    NA
    Branch cross-section
    the branch is circular in cross-section, or it has five or more sides, so that there are no sharp angles
    First-year cane (Rubus)
    NA
    Short shoots
    there are peg- or knob-like shoots present
    Twig bloom
    there is no bloom on the twig
    Twig hairs
    the twigs have few or no hairs on them
    Twig papillae (Vaccinium species only)
    NA
    Twig scales
    there are no scales on the twig surface
    Twig winter color
    • brown
    • purple
    Wings on branch
    the branch does not have wings on it
    armature on plant
    • the plant does not have spines, prickles, or thorns
    • the plant has spines, prickles, or thorns

Wetland Status

Occurs in wetlands or non-wetlands. (Wetland indicator code: FAC)

New England Distribution and Conservation Status

Distribution

Connecticut
present, invasive, prohibited
Maine
present
Massachusetts
present, invasive, prohibited
New Hampshire
present, invasive, prohibited
Rhode Island
present, invasive
Vermont
present, invasive, prohibited

Conservation Status

Exact status definitions can vary from state to state. For details, please check with your state.

Connecticut
not applicable (S-rank: SNA)
Massachusetts
unranked (S-rank: SNR)

Native to North America?

No

Sometimes Confused With

Frangula alnus:
leaf blades entire, somewhat shiny on the upper surface, and all alternate (vs. R. cathartica, with leaf blades toothed, rather dull on the upper surface, and some subopposite in arrangement).

Family

Rhamnaceae

Genus

Rhamnus

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Information from Dichotomous Key of Flora Novae Angliae

2.  Rhamnus cathartica L. E

European buckthorn. CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT. Forests, forest fragments, roadsides, fields.