common buckthorn Rhamnaceae Rhamnus
cathartica L. symbol: RHCA3
Leaf: Opposite or sub-opposite (partially alternate), simple, elliptical to nearly oval, 2 to 3 inches long, finely serrated, dark shiny green above, much lighter below.
Flower: Species is dioecious; small, yellow-green, 4 petals, in small clusters, appearing in spring.
Fruit: Round, 1/4 inch in diameter, drupe, shiny black when ripe in late summer.
Twig: Slender stiff, reddish brown, later with exfoliating gray layer, many end in a sharp thorn; buds, scaly, ovate, pointed, 1/4 inch, reddish brown to dark brown, appressed.
Bark: Smooth, shiny gray to reddish brown with numerous lenticels, later becoming dark gray and scaly; large specimens become rectangular blocky; inner bark is yellow.
Form: A large, suckering shrub or small low branching tree up to 25 feet tall.
Looks like: Carolina buckthorn - glossy buckthorn - deciduous holly
Additional Range Information: Rhamnus cathartica is planted in the USDA hardiness zones shown above and may seed into the landscape. See states reporting common buckthorn.
External Links: USDA Plants Database
All material © 2017 Virginia Tech Dept. of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation; Photos and text by: John Seiler, Edward Jensen, Alex Niemiera, and John Peterson