What Makes Buckthorn So Bad?

WHILE THICKETS OF BUCKTHORN MAKE A PIECE OF LAND SEEM MORE SECLUDED, BUCKTHORN HAS BEEN LINKED TO DECLINING POPULATIONS OF NATIVE AMPHIBIANS AND SONGBIRDS, ALONG WITH THE DISAPPEARANCE OF NATIVE ECOSYSTEMS.

NATURAL POISON – Emodin, a poisonous chemical compound produced by the leaves, fruit, and bark of invasive buckthorn, peaks with the breeding activities of several early-breeding Midwestern amphibian species, according to Lincoln Park Zoo reintroduction biologist Allison Sacerdote-Velat, Ph.D., and Northern Illinois University professor of biological sciences Richard King. Emodin naturally poisons soil and water for developing frogs and salamanders, as well as many plants.

AGGRESSIVE TENDENCIES – The shallow root system of buckthorn outcompetes native plants for moisture and nutrients, while contributing to erosion and ecological imbalance. Its leafy crown deprives other plants of sunlight and serves as a host for rust fungus and soybean aphids that impact other plants, too!

HABITAT DESTRUCTION – Buckthorn does not provide safe nesting habitat or ample migratory food for warblers, gnatcatchers, or vireos. Unlike native nut or berry trees, shrubs, or vines, buckthorn clings to berries that most animals do not like to consume.

IT ISN’T PRETTY – Buckthorn lacks the beautiful spring blossoms, autumn colors of its native counterparts, and is an eyesore of tangles branches in winter as its messy berries splatter to the ground in preparation for spring.

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT BUCKTHORN? You can help by removing buckthorn from your yard a little bit at a time:

  • Cut down buckthorn and herbicide the stumps with Triclopyr or Glyphosate OR pull out seedlings by hand
  • Install native plants, trees, and shrubs to provide a visual buffer while making your land more beautiful, sustainable, and healthy for wildlife
  • Continue to monitor for buckthorn seedlings and resprouts, using controlled burns (where permitted)

After removing thickets or buckthorn around oak trees, you can scatter native grass and wildflower seeds (instead of digging). Hilly sites require erosion fabric.

HOW CAN I TELL IF IT’S BUCKTHORN?

  • COMMON BUCKTHORN (Rhamnus cathartica) is a tree found in disturbed woodlands and wastelands which has finely-toothed oval leaves, alternate branches, and round, black berries clustered around its stems through mid-winter. The end of the branch has a small, thin thorn.
  • GLOSSY BUCKTHORN (Rhamnus frangula) is a wetland tree with smooth, shiny, oval leaves, and round black berries clustered around its stems in late fall. A bud is at the end of each glossy buckthorn branch.