Guest Article: Written by Jodi Legieza, Bluestem Ecological Services
Common buckthorn is native to Eurasia and was introduced to North America in the 1880’s as an ornamental plant. Its abundant fruit is dispersed by birds, and it spreads rapidly, replacing native vegetation and lowering native species diversity.
Like many non-native shrubs, common buckthorn leafs out early in spring and retains its leaves late into fall, shading out spring wildflowers and tree seedlings with their canopies. Buckthorn also alters ecosystem processes in complex ways. It produces considerable amounts of organic matter, mainly in the form of leaves and woody debris. The leaves of buckthorn have very high nitrogen (N) content and decompose faster than the leaves of the dominant trees in an Illinois woodland. During this accelerated decomposition process, beneficial fungi living in the soil are killed in the process. This fungi, called mycorrhizal fungi, actually help the good trees in our environment extract nutrients from the soil. When the fungi dies so do our native trees, exposing even more soil for more buckthorn seeds to germinate and grow into buckthorn trees. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be broken!
The above and below ground effects of buckthorn in natural field settings can be devastating. Both effects are substantial, and researchers were surprised to find that buckthorn contaminated soils inhibit native plant growth as much, or more than, the space their canopies take over above ground Conservation organizations like BACT are committed to eradicating buckthorn from our ecosystems. Winter is the best time to cut down buckthorn (and treat their stumps with herbicide or smother the stumps so that the trees don’t grow back).
Visit www.Bluestemeco.com for consultation on buckthorn removal. Bluestem Ecological Services is a sustainable company that builds, restores and maintains native ecosystems.