Buckthorn: Do your woods look like this in the fall?

Maybe you've heard of buckthorn, maybe you haven't. But one thing is certain, if you have it on your property, this is the best time of year to spot it.


Maybe you've heard of buckthorn, maybe you haven't. But one thing is certain, if you have it on your property, this is the best time of year to spot it.

What is buckthorn?

Buckthorn is a non-native, invasive shrub or small tree which was brought to the United States from Europe in the 1880s and used as hedges in yards.

Why should I care about buckthorn?

The impacts of buckthorn are many:


  • It is an alternative winter host for the soybean aphid.
  • It out-competes native plants for light, moisture, and nutrients - creating a dark, dense understory thicket with no ground cover.
  • It decreases the diversity of plants and songbirds in your woods.
  • Although birds do eat the fruit, it is a laxative and the birds receive no nutritional value from it.
  • The seeds are messy, staining cars, decks and concrete.
  • Once it grows into a dense thicket, it becomes expensive and time consuming to remove.

What does buckthorn look like?
There are two species in Minnesota, the common buckthorn and the glossy buckthorn.

  • This shrub can't make up its mind when it comes to branch and leaf arrangement, having both opposite and alternate arrangement.
  • The leaves are round to oval shaped, 1-2.5 inches long, with leaf veins running parallel with the edge of the leaf. Buckthorn is the first shrub to leaf out in the spring and holds its leaves the longest into the fall. If you still see green leaves in your woods in late October and early November, it's probably buckthorn.
  • Buds on the branches are pressed close to the branch.
  • Pairs of buds on the branches look like a deer hoof print and short branches end with a sharp thorn, thus the name Buckthorn.
  • Flowers are small and greenish-white, blooming in May and June.
  • Berries are first red and then turn dark purple to black when ripe, with 2-4 seeds in each berry.

Where does buckthorn grow?
Common buckthorn prefers dry soils, open woods, clearings, roadsides, and other disturbed areas. Glossy buckthorn grows in wetter ground and along rivers. Seedlings are most notable under large roosting trees and along fencerows. If you don't know that buckthorn is present in your woods, and you start clearing out areas, buckthorn starts to invade due to the increased sunlight from clearing.

Why is buckthorn so successful?

  • No animals or insects eat the leaves, twigs, or seedlings.
  • Seeds are spread through bird droppings.
  • It has a longer growing season than native plants.
  • Has vigorous re-sprouting after being cut.
  • Seeds are viable about six years in the soil.
  • Has a fibrous root system.

Where can I find more information?
If you think you have buckthorn on your property and aren't sure, just call our office and we can help you identify it. The Wadena Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has cost share funds available through Dec. 31, 2010. Cost share funds are available to purchase chemical to control buckthorn. For more information, please call Anne Oldakowski at the Wadena Soil and Water Conservation District, (218) 631-3195 ext. 3.

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