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Purging Buckthorn

Rhamnus cathartica

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn)
Deciduous shrub
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
8 metres tall
Fens, hedgerows, roadsides, scrub, wasteland, woodland.

Yellow, 4 petals
The flowers of Purging Buckthorn, found commonly in woodlands, hedgerows, and roadsides across the UK, exhibit delicate beauty. These diminutive blooms, borne in late spring to early summer, are inconspicuous yet charming. Adorning the shrub with a subtle elegance, they boast greenish-white petals that gently sway in the breeze. Drawing the attention of pollinators such as bees and butterflies, these unassuming blossoms contribute to the intricate tapestry of the British countryside, fostering biodiversity and ecological harmony.
The fruit of Purging Buckthorn, commonly encountered in woodlands, hedgerows, and roadsides throughout the UK, presents a distinctive allure. These small, black berries, ripening in late summer, possess a glossy sheen that catches the dappled sunlight filtering through the canopy. Despite their alluring appearance, these berries contain mild toxins, deterring consumption by humans. However, they serve as a vital food source for avian species, aiding in seed dispersal and contributing to the interconnected web of life within the British landscape.
The leaves of Purging Buckthorn, prevalent in woodlands, hedgerows, and roadsides across the UK, exhibit a quintessentially British charm. These ovate-shaped foliage, adorned with a glossy texture and serrated edges, boast a rich, dark green hue that epitomizes the verdant beauty of the British countryside. Delicate veins traverse the surface of each leaf, imbuing them with a sense of intricate detail. As the seasons transition, these resilient leaves provide a striking contrast against the changing backdrop, from the vibrant greens of spring and summer to the golden hues of autumn. Serving as habitats for myriad insects and sheltering the forest floor, these leaves embody the enduring vitality of the UK's natural landscapes.
The fragrance of Purging Buckthorn, commonly encountered in woodlands, hedgerows, and roadsides across the UK, is subtle yet distinct. When in bloom during late spring to early summer, the shrub emits a delicate scent that blends effortlessly with the surrounding natural aromas. This fragrance, reminiscent of fresh greenery and wildflowers, carries a hint of sweetness that evokes the essence of the British countryside. While not overpowering, the fragrance of Purging Buckthorn adds a layer of sensory richness to the air, enhancing the experience of walking through woodland paths or exploring rural landscapes.
Other Names:
Buckthorn Berry, Common Buckthorn, European Buckthorn, European Waythorn, French Berry, Glossy Buckthorn, Hart's Thorn, Highwaythorn, Rainberry Thorn, Ramsthorn, Rhineberry, Rhineberry Thorn, Wayworth Redberry.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Rhamnus cathartica, also known as common buckthorn or purging buckthorn, is a species of flowering plant in the family Rhamnaceae. It is native to Europe, but has been introduced to other parts of the world, including North America, where it has become invasive in some areas. R. cathartica 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.


Purging Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) is an invasive shrub or small tree native to Europe and Asia, but now found in North America and other parts of the world. It was introduced for ornamental purposes and for use in land reclamation and erosion control. However, it has now become a serious invasive species that is causing harm to native ecosystems and wildlife habitats.

The Purging Buckthorn grows rapidly, producing dense thickets that can outcompete native vegetation and reduce biodiversity. Its dense canopy can also shade out other plants, leading to a decline in understory vegetation. The species also produces a large number of seeds, which are dispersed by birds, making it difficult to control.

One of the main ways to control the spread of Purging Buckthorn is to remove it manually. This can be done by using tools such as loppers, saws, or chainsaws. It is important to wear gloves and protective clothing, as the plant has thorns that can cause injury. After the plant has been removed, the area should be monitored to make sure it does not regrow. In some cases, it may be necessary to use herbicides to ensure complete removal.

Another effective method for controlling Purging Buckthorn is to replace it with native vegetation. This helps to restore the natural balance of the ecosystem and provides habitat for native wildlife. Native species that can be planted in place of Purging Buckthorn include wildflowers, shrubs, and trees such as oak, maple, and birch.

It is important to prevent the spread of Purging Buckthorn by not planting it in your own garden or in the wild. Instead, choose native species that provide the same benefits but without the negative impact on the environment. If you have Purging Buckthorn on your property, consider removing it and replacing it with native species.

In addition to its negative impacts on the environment, Purging Buckthorn can also have negative impacts on human health. The plant contains a toxic substance called cathartic, which can cause purging or diarrhea if ingested. This can be particularly dangerous for children, pets, and livestock that may accidentally ingest the plant.

Another issue with Purging Buckthorn is its potential to alter soil chemistry. The plant is able to fix nitrogen from the air, which can increase the nitrogen levels in the soil. This can lead to an increase in the growth of other invasive species and can also negatively impact native plant growth.

It is important to note that the removal and control of Purging Buckthorn should be done in an environmentally responsible manner. For example, manual removal should not cause soil erosion, and herbicides should only be used as a last resort and with proper care to minimize any impact on non-target species.

Purging Buckthorn is also known to affect water quality. The plant's dense canopy can lead to increased runoff and erosion, which can result in increased sedimentation in streams and rivers. This can negatively impact aquatic habitats, making it more difficult for fish and other aquatic species to thrive. The plant can also alter the hydrology of an area, causing changes in the timing and volume of runoff and groundwater recharge.

In order to effectively manage Purging Buckthorn, a multi-pronged approach is often necessary. This may include a combination of manual removal, herbicide treatment, and the promotion of native vegetation. It is also important to educate the public about the negative impacts of Purging Buckthorn and encourage them to take action to remove it from their own properties.

Land managers, such as parks departments, can play a crucial role in the management of Purging Buckthorn. They can implement management plans that prioritize the removal of the plant and the restoration of native vegetation. This can involve working with volunteers and partnering with local organizations to coordinate removal efforts and provide education and outreach to the community.

In addition, research is needed to better understand the biology and ecology of Purging Buckthorn, as well as the most effective methods for its control and management. This can lead to the development of new and more effective methods for managing this invasive species and mitigating its impacts on the environment.

In conclusion, Purging Buckthorn is a major environmental problem that requires a coordinated effort from individuals, land managers, and the scientific community to address. By working together, we can restore native ecosystems and promote a healthy and diverse environment for both wildlife and people.

30 Purging Buckthorn Facts

  1. Purging Buckthorn is a deciduous shrub or small tree native to Europe and Western Asia.
  2. It belongs to the Rhamnaceae family.
  3. The scientific name "cathartica" refers to its cathartic properties.
  4. Purging Buckthorn can grow up to 6 meters (20 feet) in height.
  5. The leaves are oval-shaped, glossy, and dark green, with serrated edges.
  6. It produces small, greenish-white flowers in late spring to early summer.
  7. The flowers are followed by small, black berries that ripen in late summer.
  8. The berries are mildly toxic to humans but are consumed by birds, which aid in seed dispersal.
  9. Purging Buckthorn is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are borne on separate plants.
  10. It spreads aggressively through seeds and can form dense thickets, outcompeting native vegetation.
  11. The plant is tolerant of a wide range of soil types and can thrive in both full sun and shade.
  12. It is often found in disturbed areas such as woodlands, hedgerows, and along roadsides.
  13. Purging Buckthorn is considered an invasive species in many parts of North America, where it has been introduced.
  14. It can negatively impact native ecosystems by reducing biodiversity and altering soil composition.
  15. The plant contains compounds called anthraquinones, which have laxative properties.
  16. Historically, the berries were used as a laxative in traditional medicine, although this practice is now discouraged due to the toxicity of the berries.
  17. The bark of Purging Buckthorn has been used to make a yellow dye.
  18. It has been used in landscaping for its ornamental value, but its invasive nature has led to restrictions on its sale in some areas.
  19. Purging Buckthorn is difficult to eradicate once established, as it can regenerate from root fragments.
  20. Mechanical methods such as cutting or pulling can be ineffective and may stimulate vegetative growth.
  21. Chemical herbicides are often used to control Purging Buckthorn, but they can have negative impacts on non-target species.
  22. Biological control methods, such as the introduction of herbivorous insects, are being researched as potential solutions.
  23. Purging Buckthorn can outcompete native plants for resources such as water, nutrients, and sunlight.
  24. Its dense growth habit can also provide cover for invasive species such as deer ticks.
  25. Removal of Purging Buckthorn can improve habitat quality for native wildlife.
  26. The plant is sometimes confused with other species of buckthorn, such as Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), which is also invasive.
  27. Purging Buckthorn is listed as a noxious weed in several states in the United States.
  28. Efforts to control Purging Buckthorn often involve community-based initiatives and volunteer work.
  29. Long-term management strategies may include monitoring and repeated treatments to prevent reestablishment.
  30. Education and awareness campaigns are important for preventing the spread of Purging Buckthorn and minimizing its impact on native ecosystems.


Purging Buckthorn filmed on Arnside Knott, Cumbria on the 3rd June 2023.


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Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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