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Rhamnus cathartica

Rhamnus cathartica L.

 

Buckthorn, Common Buckthorn, Purging Buckthorn

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae (from Stearn’s Botanical Latin)
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassRosidaeRoses, legumes, proteas, dogwoods, hydrangeas, mistletoes, euphorbias, grapes, many more
OrderRhamnalesBuckthorns, oleasters, grapes, others
FamilyRhamnaceaeBuckthorn family
GenusRhamnusFrom Greek for “buckthorn”
SpeciescatharticaFrom Greek katharos, “pure,” or kathartes, “a purifier, a cleanser,” for its cathartic properties

About plant names...

Common buckthorn is native to Europe, northwest Africa, western Asia. It was introduced to North America as an ornamental plant, where it escaped and has become an invasive species in many areas. It sprouts early, regrows quickly if cut down, and persists late in the season, outcompeting other plants.

 

Rhamnus cathartica (Buckthorn, Common Buckthorn, Purging Buckthorn)

9/14/2009 · Near Nashoba Hospital, Ayer, MA
≈ 31 × 21" (78 × 52 cm)

Rhamnus cathartica (Buckthorn, Common Buckthorn, Purging Buckthorn)

9/14/2009 · Near Nashoba Hospital, Ayer, MA
≈ 14 × 9" (35 × 23 cm)

Here are some similar-looking buckthorns:

 
Rhamnus alnifolia
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Rhamnus cathartica

Frangula alnus
Common Name

Alderleaf Buckthorn

Buckthorn

European Buckthorn
Plant This smaller shrub reaches up to 3' (1 m) in height. Plants are rounded shrubs or small trees up to 33' (10 m) in height, with trunks that sometimes reach 10" (25 cm) in width. Outer bark is dark gray, while the inner bark is yellow and the heartwood is pink to orange in color. Stem tips are often tipped with a spine. 9½-20' (3-6 m) tall. It usually has multiple stems, rarely only one, becoming a tree. Dark brown-black bark covers a light yellow interior bark.
Flowers Yellowish-green, 5-petaled, in groups of 1-3, nestled at the base of leaves, from May to July. Male and female flowers are on different plants. Yellowish-green, with four petals, in dense clusters. ¹/₁₆-³/₁₆" (3-5 mm), 5-petaled, yellowish- or greenish-white, and inconspicuous.
Leaves Alternate, elliptical, either rounded or pointed at the tip, smooth-edged, up to 4" (10 cm) × 2" (5 cm). Elliptic (roughly oval), with several prominent veins roughly parallel to the leaf edges and fine teeth. They are ⅞-3½" (2.5-9 cm) × ⅜-1¼" (1.2-3.5 cm) in size. Leaves are mostly opposite, occasionally alternate, smooth on top and bottom. Roughly oval, 1-2½" (3-7 cm) long and ⅞-1½" (2.5-4 cm) wide. Leaves have smooth edges and prominent veins and stems ¼-½" (8-15 mm) long.
Fruit Round, up to ¼" (6.3 mm) in diameter, turning to light red and then to deep black. Each fruit contains three seeds. Fruits are dense clusters of black berries ⅛-⅜" (6-10 mm) in diameter. Each berry contains 3-4 seeds. Clusters of shiny black berries, reddish or purplish before ripening, are each ⅛-⅜" (6-10 mm) in diameter.
Range/ Zones

Type Wild Wild Wild
Occurrence Uncommon Common Common

 

Identification: Plants are rounded shrubs or small trees up to 33' (10 m) in height, with trunks that sometimes reach 10" (25 cm) in width. Outer bark is dark gray, while the inner bark is yellow and the heartwood is pink to orange in color. Stem tips are often tipped with a spine. Leaves are elliptic (roughly oval), with several prominent veins roughly parallel to the leaf edges and fine teeth. They are ⅞-3½" (2.5-9 cm) × ⅜-1¼" (1.2-3.5 cm) in size. Leaves are mostly opposite, occasionally alternate, smooth on top and bottom. Flowers are yellowish-green, with four petals, in dense clusters. Fruits are dense clusters of black berries ⅛-⅜" (6-10 mm) in diameter. Each berry contains 3-4 seeds.

Edibility: Not edible; mildly poisonous. Many birds like them though.

Online References:

Rhamnus cathartica on Wikipedia

Rhamnus cathartica at the University of Wisconsin's Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium

Rhamnus cathartica on the USDA Forest Service's Fire Effects Information Database

Rhamnus cathartica on the Plant Conservation Alliance’s Alien Plant Working Group Least Wanted List

Rhamnus cathartica on www.dcnr.state.pa.us

Rhamnus cathartica at the Bugwood Wiki

References:

Petrides, George A., Peterson Field Guides: Trees and Shrubs, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1972, p. 88

Rhamnus cathartica description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 16 Aug 2013.

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Range:

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