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Alder Buckthorn

Frangula alnus

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn)
Deciduous shrub
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
6 metres tall
Bogs, fens, heathland, hedgerows, scrub, swamps, woodland.

White, 5 petals
The flowers of Alder Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) in the UK typically bloom in late spring, forming small, greenish-yellow clusters that adorn the glossy, dark green foliage. These hermaphroditic flowers contain both male and female reproductive organs and are a valuable nectar source for pollinators, including bees and butterflies. Their modest yet delicate appearance adds to the shrub's ornamental charm, attracting various beneficial insects to UK woodlands, riverbanks, and wetland areas. As the season progresses, these blossoms give way to the formation of small, round, dark purple-black berries, providing sustenance for local wildlife and contributing to the plant's ecological role in the British countryside.
The fruit of Alder Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) in the UK consists of small, round, and dark purple-black berries that ripen in the autumn. These berries, though mildly toxic to humans and not suitable for consumption, serve as a vital food source for a variety of birds and small mammals, aiding in the dispersal of Alder Buckthorn seeds throughout the British landscape. The glossy, dark-hued berries create a striking contrast against the shrub's green leaves and are a noticeable feature in woodlands, wetlands, and hedgerows during the autumn season, contributing to the plant's ecological importance and its role in supporting local wildlife in the United Kingdom. The berries ripen in September.
Alder Buckthorn is thornless (unlike other Buckthorns). Their leaves are untoothed and alternate along the branches. Each leaf has between 6 and 10 pairs of veins. The leaves turn yellow or red in autumn before they fall. This tree is most common in England, in particular southern England. It is almost totally absent from Scotland.
Alder Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) in the UK is not typically known for its distinctive aroma. The plant's primary features, including its glossy dark green leaves and small clusters of greenish-yellow flowers, do not release a pronounced scent. Instead, the appeal of Alder Buckthorn lies in its visual and ecological attributes, attracting pollinators and wildlife through its appearance rather than its fragrance. In British woodlands, riverbanks, and wetlands, the subtle beauty and presence of this shrub contribute to the natural landscape without a strong olfactory component.
Other Names:
Black Alder, Black Dogwood, Breaking Buckthorn, Columnar Buckthorn, Common Buckthorn, European Alder, Fen Buckthorn, Glossy Buckthorn, Smooth Buckthorn.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Frangula alnus, also known as the alder buckthorn or common buckthorn, is a species of flowering plant in the family Rhamnaceae. It is native to Europe and is commonly found in woodlands, along streams, and in other moist, shaded areas. F. alnus is a deciduous shrub or small tree that grows to a height of up to 8 meters. It has dark green, oval-shaped leaves and small, greenish-yellow flowers that are followed by dark purple berries. The plant is valued for its medicinal properties and has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including constipation and liver problems. However, it can be toxic if consumed in large amounts and can cause negative impacts on native plant communities when introduced to new areas.


Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus) is a deciduous shrub or small tree native to Europe, Asia, and North America. It is a member of the Rhamnaceae family and is commonly referred to as simply Buckthorn.

The plant has a rounded, spreading form and can reach up to 6m in height. Its leaves are oval-shaped, glossy green, and 3-7 cm long. In the summer, it produces small, inconspicuous green flowers that are followed by black berries in the autumn.

Alder Buckthorn is a hardy and adaptable species, able to grow in a range of soil types and moisture levels. It is commonly found in wet, marshy areas, along streams and rivers, and in wet woods. The plant is also often used in reforestation and wetland restoration projects.

One of the key characteristics of Alder Buckthorn is its tolerance to salt. This makes it an ideal species for coastal planting, where it can help to reduce soil erosion and provide habitat for wildlife. The plant is also popular in ornamental horticulture, due to its attractive form, shiny leaves, and autumn berries.

In addition to its ornamental value, Alder Buckthorn has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. The bark, leaves, and berries contain compounds with cathartic, purgative, and laxative effects, and have been used to treat digestive disorders and constipation. However, it is important to note that all parts of the plant are toxic if ingested in large quantities and should not be used without medical supervision.

Alder Buckthorn is also a food source for wildlife, particularly birds. Its small, black berries are a valuable food source for many species of birds, including robins, thrushes, and waxwings. In addition, the shrub provides cover and nesting sites for birds, as well as habitat for other wildlife such as insects and small mammals.

In some regions, Alder Buckthorn has become invasive, crowding out native species and altering the balance of local ecosystems. This is due in part to its tolerance to a wide range of conditions and its ability to quickly colonize new areas. For this reason, it is important to be mindful of its potential impact when planting and to choose alternative species if you are concerned about the impact on local ecosystems.

In terms of maintenance, Alder Buckthorn is a low-maintenance species that requires minimal care. It can be pruned back to control its size or shape if desired, and should be fertilized annually with a balanced fertilizer.

Overall, Alder Buckthorn is a versatile and valuable species that can provide a range of benefits for both wildlife and people. Whether you're planting for ornamental purposes, to provide habitat for wildlife, or for its medicinal properties, Alder Buckthorn is a species worth considering.

It's important to note that in some areas, Alder Buckthorn is considered an invasive species and can outcompete native vegetation. This is especially true in areas with moist soils, where it can rapidly spread and form dense thickets. In order to mitigate the impact of invasive Alder Buckthorn, it is recommended to remove it from areas where it is not desired and to plant native species instead.

Additionally, while Alder Buckthorn has been used for medicinal purposes in the past, it is important to remember that all parts of the plant contain toxic compounds and should not be consumed without medical supervision. Overconsumption of Alder Buckthorn can cause severe side effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even death in severe cases.

In conclusion, Alder Buckthorn is a valuable species with a range of uses, but it's important to be mindful of its potential impact on local ecosystems and to use it in a responsible and sustainable manner. Whether you're planting for ornamental purposes, to provide habitat for wildlife, or for its medicinal properties, be sure to carefully consider the potential impact of this versatile species and choose alternative species if necessary.

30 Facts About Alder Buckthorn

Here are 30 facts about Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus):

  1. Alder Buckthorn is a deciduous shrub or small tree native to Europe, western Asia, and North Africa.

  2. The scientific name, Rhamnus frangula, is also known as Glossy Buckthorn or Breaking Buckthorn.

  3. It typically grows to a height of 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 meters).

  4. Alder Buckthorn is characterized by glossy, dark green leaves.

  5. The bark of Alder Buckthorn is dark brown and has corky projections.

  6. It produces small, greenish-yellow flowers in clusters in late spring.

  7. The plant's flowers are hermaphroditic, containing both male and female reproductive organs.

  8. Alder Buckthorn is dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female plants.

  9. Female plants produce small, round, and dark purple-black berries in the fall.

  10. The berries are a food source for birds and small mammals, which help in seed dispersal.

  11. The berries are mildly toxic to humans and should not be consumed.

  12. Alder Buckthorn has been used historically as a laxative due to its mild cathartic properties.

  13. The shrub is often found in wetlands, riverbanks, and moist woodlands.

  14. It has an extensive root system that can help stabilize soil in erosion-prone areas.

  15. Alder Buckthorn leaves are the primary food source for the caterpillars of several butterfly species, including the Brimstone butterfly.

  16. The plant is sometimes used for hedgerow planting and in landscaping due to its attractive appearance.

  17. It is valued for its ornamental qualities and the dark foliage.

  18. The wood of Alder Buckthorn is hard and fine-grained, making it suitable for certain woodworking applications.

  19. In some regions, Alder Buckthorn has been considered an invasive species, especially in North America.

  20. The plant can displace native vegetation in some areas due to its aggressive growth.

  21. Alder Buckthorn has been used in traditional medicine for various purposes, including the treatment of skin conditions.

  22. The bark and roots contain anthraquinone compounds, which contribute to its laxative properties.

  23. In some countries, it is illegal to harvest Alder Buckthorn for medicinal use due to its potential toxicity.

  24. The plant's scientific name "frangula" may refer to its fragile twigs, which can easily break.

  25. Alder Buckthorn is a vital host plant for the Brimstone butterfly, which lays its eggs on the leaves.

  26. The shrub provides important habitat and food for a variety of insects, birds, and other wildlife.

  27. Alder Buckthorn is used in some places for dyeing purposes, as the berries can produce a yellow or greenish dye.

  28. It's adaptable to a range of soil types, from moist to moderately dry conditions.

  29. The plant's spread can be controlled through proper management and removal of invasive individuals.

  30. While it has some potential benefits, Alder Buckthorn's ecological impact in non-native regions has led to it being considered an invasive species in many areas.


Alder Buckthorn filmed at Roudsea Wood in Cumbria on the 13th August 2023.


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