Glossy Buckthorn
Frangula alnusRhamnaceae
Photos (c) Cheryl Comeau Beaton unless otherwise noted


  • European alder buckthorn
  • Rhamnus frangula

The Plant:

  • A small tree or coarse shrub. Deciduous, growing up to 19.7 feet tall.

The Leaves:

  • short 1-2.5 inches long
  • alternate
  • dark green (in summer)
  • shining above
  • glabrous or slightly pubescent beneath
  • in fall leaves turn greenish-yellow to yellow and remain on the plant later than most other plants

The Stem:

  • warty bark
  • young branchlets pubescent

The Flowers:

  • White five-petaled flowers, sometimes yellow or green tinged, are arranged in sessile and glabrous umbels with one to eight flowers. Flowers from May to September.

The Fruits:

  • drupes
  • ripening from red to black
  • 0.25 inches across
  • ripen from July to August

The Habitat:

  • requires adequate light
  • tolerates moisture; can be found in wet areas such as swamps, fens and the edges of bogs
  • can also be found in drier upland areas such as woodland edges, fencerows and old fields


  • seeds are dispersed by birds

Key ID Features:

  • small tree or shrub
  • white, yellow or green flowers
  • alternate leaves
  • no spines on the ends of the branches, a pinnate leaf venation

Similar Species:

  • Common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) is another invasive plant that is not yet recorded on nantucket. It has opposite leaves, spines on the ends of the branches, and strongly upcurved lateral veins on the leaves. Glossy buckthorn has alternately arranged leaves, no spines on the ends of the branches, a pinnate leaf venation and tolerates more moisture and requires more light than Common buckthorn.


  • Glossy buckthorn can form dense stands within wetland areas and can exclude the growth of native plants
  • due to its long fruit production and dispersal by birds this plant is easily distributed
  • At any given time there can be flowers, partially ripened red fruits and fully ripened black fruits present on one plant
  • This species is not known on Nantucket as of December 2006.

Growth Form: Shrub, Tree

Origin: Europe, North Africa, Central Asia

Level of Invasiveness for Nantucket: Potential Invasive

Level of Invasiveness for Massachusetts: Invasive

Massachusetts Cultivation Restrictions: importation ban, propagation ban

Credits: The Electronic Field Guide to the Invasive Plants of Nantucket (c) 2005-2006 Maria Mitchell Association, EFG Project, UMass Boston