Glossy Buckthorn

Frangula alnus - wetland 2

Frangula alnus, a.k.a. Rhamus frangula [ USDA, Wikipedia, GoBotany, IPANE ]

Glossy Buckthorn, a small tree or coarse shrub that grows up to 20 ft. tall, is one of the most common invasive plants in Acton. Its simple leaves leaves are 1 - 2.5 in. long, have untoothed edges and are usually arranged alternately although they may appear almost opposite near the branch tips. The leaves are dark green (in the summer) and glossy above, with either no hairs or slight hairs beneath. The leaves turn greenish-yellow to yellow late in the fall, and remain on the plant when most other species have already lost their leaves.

Rhamnus frangula

Young stems are greenish, often with soft fine hairs. Older bark is grayish-brown, with prominent light raised lenticels. The heartwood (visible when cut) is pinkish to orange. The roots are deep red.

It flowers with clusters of one to eight 5-petaled yellow-green flowers after the leaves expand, from May to August. The berries are round and roughly 0.25 in diameter. They change from red to black as they ripen, from July to August. It should be noted that at any given time there can be flowers, partially ripened fruits (red) and fully ripened fruits (black) present on the same plant.

Additional information about Glossy Buckthorn is available online, from the US (pdf), the MI DNR, and MSU (pdf).

It is found on all Acton conservation lands.

Rhamnus frangula


Unfortunately, simply cutting buckthorn rarely harms the plant! Four sprouts will appear where one is cut. Eventually (such as along trails) this practice leads to huge root structures which need frequent cutting. The roots must be removed, or a triclopyr herbicide (e.g. Garlon, Brush-B-Gone) applied to the stumps. (Herbicide application is only allowed in Acton Conservation Lands when done by trained personnel with the explicit approval of the Cons. Committee.)

While prevention of re-seeding isn't sufficient to stop the spread of Buckthorn, it does down regeneration and allows time for proper removal. An effort should be being made to identify and cut fruiting Buckthorn shrubs and trees (if sufficiently shady, no fruit may be present), concentrating on the larger plants.

The removal process involves pulling or digging out all buckthorn plants. Care should be taken to minimize the dirturbance to co-sited native species and restore the ground leaf/litter cover. Repeated sweeps will be required for the next eight years or so to catch new sprouts coming up from seed.

Common Mis-Identifications

When removing Buckthorn, leaving co-sited native plants untouched is important to recovery. While Glossy Buckthorn is easy to spot, there are a few Acton natives which might cause confusion:

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