Ontario Trees & Shrubs website

Common Buckthorn
(Rhamnus cathartica)

Other common names: Buckthorn, European Buckthorn

French names: Nerprun cathartique

Family: Buckthorn Family (Rhamnaceae)

Group: Buckthorns

Distinctive features: Shrub; Roundish, deeply veined leaves. Thorns at end of stems.

Similar species:
  •   Alder-leaved Buckthorn (Rhamnus alnifolia) - grows in very wet areas.

  •   Glossy Buckthorn (Frangula alnus) - grows in wet areas, but not as wet.

  •   Alternate-leaved Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)


Flowers: Summer;  Greenish-yellow.

Leaves: Opposite/Whorled, Alternate, Simple, Toothed;  Usually opposite, sometimes alternate.

Trunk: Usually crooked. Has patches that resemble a dark yellow birch, in that the bark peels off laterally.

Fruit/Seeds: Black berries. Not edible.

Habitat: Fields and Open Areas;  Open woods. Scattered throughout southern Ontario.

Books: Trees in Canada: 278, 278    Newcomb's Wildflower Guide: 168   

Native/Non-native: Non-native

Status: Common, invasive.

Notes: Common Buckthorn is a very invasive alien plant, originally from Europe. It can grow up to about 20 feet tall. Please help to slow the spread of this plant by pulling it up whenever you see it. However, please be sure that you're pulling up the right plant, as it can resemble native Dogwoods. The thorns are wicked - watch out for them!

Photographs: 95 photographs available, of which 17 are featured on this page. SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTOGRAPHS.

Range Map is at the bottom of the page

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

A Common Buckthorn growing in an open field.

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

A closer view of the same plant, showing the clumps of ripe berries.

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

The ripe black berries. They're not edible.

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

Closeup of berries.

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

A bare shrub in the winter, showing the berries that persist throughout the winter. This photo was taken in March.

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

Dried berries on a shrub in January.

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

The leaves. These are tougher than those of Glossy Buckthorn (Frangula alnus), but are somewhat shiny as well.

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

A closer view of some leaves. The leaves are mostly opposite on a plant, but are also alternate.

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

Young leaves sprouting out in the spring (May).

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

Bark, and the thorns that give this family its name.

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

Bark of an older tree.

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

More bark.

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

A cluster of flowers (end of May).

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

Closeup view of some flowers.

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

Here's another Common Buckthorn, displaying its wicked thorns. If you get pricked by one of these thorns, it really hurts. There must be something in the bark that causes this.

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

Winter twig.

Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

Another winter twig. Note the alternate-opposite arrangement of the buds, as if the plant can't make up its mind.


Range map for Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

PLEASE NOTE: A coloured Province or State means this species occurs somewhere in that Province/State.
The entire Province/State is coloured, regardless of where in that Province/State it occurs.

(Range map provided courtesy of the USDA website and is displayed here in accordance with their Policies)