Glossy Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula)
Buckthorn Family (Rhamnaceae)
Status: Invasive in Connecticut.
Description: Glossy buckthorn is a deciduous perennial shrub or small tree that reaches up to 23 feet in height. It has alternate, glossy leaves that are oval or elliptical. They are smooth or slightly hairy, thin and from one to three inches long. Its brown-green branches have elongated sentinels, which are slightly raised on the surface of the bark. Glossy buckthorn flowers are yellowish-green, have five parts, and are perfect flowers arranged in umbels, which resemble the spokes in an umbrella. Buckthorn establishes dense stands, choking out native shrubs and herbaceous plants.
Preferred habitat: Glossy buckthorn occurs in a variety of habitats, including woodland borders and wet areas that are typically open and sunny. Often, the soil is fairly acidic.
Seasonal cycle: This plant has a long growing season, with leaves appearing in mid-May to late May, prior to most other deciduous plants, and leaves retained into late September and possibly through November. Each tree typically bears either male or female flowers in May through September and produces rounded fruits. Each fruit contains two or three ungrooved seeds that are initially red and turn black. After ripening in July and August, the fruit of glossy buckthorn falls to the ground where it is spread by birds and mice. Like most shrubs, the stems persist through the winter.
Distribution: In North America, glossy buckthorn occurs from Nova Scotia to Manitoba, south to Minnesota, Illinois, New Jersey and Tennessee.
Other points of interest: Native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, glossy buckthorn was probably introduced to North America before 1800 and became widespread and naturalized in the early 1900s. It was cultivated for hedges, wildlife habitat and other forestry uses.
Fen buckthorn and alder buckthorn are other common names for glossy buckthorn.
Control: Control methods include cutting/mowing, girdling, excavation, and chemical control. Seedlings or small plants may be pulled by hand or removed with a grubbing hoe. Excavation is most useful in areas with low density invasions. Repeated cutting, which reduces plant strength, is recommended twice in each season for two or three successive years. Girdling may be done all winter, does not disrupt the soil, and does not affect sensitive wetlands. Combining cutting with use of herbicides may also be effective; it is recommended the stem be cut in the spring at leaf expansion and again in August or September, at which time a twenty percent solution of glyphosate can be applied to the stump. (Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide and great care must be taken when using it in order to not harm native plant species.)
Additional information sources:
Common Buckthorn and Glossy Buckhorn Element Stewardship Abstract. C.K. Converse. Unpublished report of The Nature Conservancy, 1984.
Experiment Finds Less Herbicide Needed to Control Buckthorn (Wisconsin) s. Glass. Restoration & Management Notes, 12:1, Summer 1994.
The New Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United states and Adjacent Canada. Fifth printing. H. Gleason. Haler Press, New York, 1974.
Diagnostic information: Leaves: short-oblong to obovate with entire or obscurely crenulate margins: the amture 1′-3” long. Flowers: 5-parted perfect flowers born in sessile umbels. Fruit.. red turning black, berry-like drupe with 2-3 separate seed-like nutlets of cartilaginous texture, the plump seeds with a deep and dorsal groove. Stem and branches: Brown-green branches have elongate sentinels, young branches pubescent.
This fact sheet has been prepared by The Nature Conservancy Connecticut Chapter.
For additional information about Glossy Buckthorn, see Glossy Buckthorn.