Common Buckthorn
Rhamnus catharticaRhamnaceae
Whole Plant
Whole PlantFlowerFruitLeaf
Photos (c) Cheryl Comeau Beaton unless otherwise noted


  • European buckthorn, buckthorn, European waythorn, Hart's thorn, Rhineberry

The Plant:

  • A small tree or coarse shrub. Deciduous, growing up to 20 feet tall.

The Leaves:

  • short .75-2.5 inches long
  • opposite or nearly opposite
  • green
  • toothed
  • glabrous

The Stem:

  • thorn-tipped branches
  • inner layer of bark has a reddish tinge

The Flowers:

  • yellowish-green four-sepaled flowers, on short stalks growing in clusters from leaf axils. Male and female flowers are typically found on separate plants. Flowers from May to June.

The Fruits:

  • black drupes
  • 0.25 inches across

The Habitat:

  • found along roadsides, in woods and edge of woods
  • prefers dry soil


  • seeds are dispersed by birds

Key ID Features:

  • spine-tipped branches
  • pointed, four-petaled flowers
  • reddish inner bark

Similar Species:

  • Glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus) is another invasive plant that is not yet recorded on nantucket. It has alternate leaves, no spines on the ends of the branches, and obovate leaves that are wider at the tips. Glossy buckthorn also tolerates more moisture and requires more light than Common buckthorn.


  • Common buckthorn can form dense stands and can exclude the growth of native plants
  • due to its dispersal by birds this plant is easily distributed
  • This species is not known on Nantucket as of December 2006.

Growth Form: Shrub, Tree

Origin: Europe, 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