Frangula alnus stem with berries Glossy buckthorn stem with berries

Glossy Buckthorn

Frangula alnus

2019 Status in Maine: Widespread. Severely Invasive.

Description: Perennial, deciduous, shrub or small tree, often multi-stemmed, can be single-trunked, to ~20' tall. Despite name, lacks thorns. Leaves: Simple, alternate, elliptical, 2-4" long, and sometimes glossy. Flowers: White-yellow, 5-petaled, small, in leaf axils, ~June in Maine (though some may bloom later). Fruit: Mature from green to red to purple-black in late summer/early fall, red and black fruit can co-occur on same plant. Bark: Mature twigs and stems have dark bark with raised, horizontal, light-colored lenticels. Roots: Red.

Native range: Europe, Northern Africa, Central Asia. How arrived in U.S.: As an ornamental, but also planted for wildlife and revegetation projects.

Reproduction: By seed. Fruits eaten and dispersed by birds and small mammals. Seeds viable at least two years.

Habitat: Forests, forest edges, many types wetlands. Moderately shade tolerant; more productive in sun. Tolerates wet to moist soils.

Similar native species: Cherries (Prunus spp.) have lenticels but scratched bark or twig has characteristic bitter almond smell and leaves are toothed. Alder-leaved buckthorn (Rhamnus alnifolia) has serrate leaf margins. Most dogwood shrubs (Swida spp.) have opposite leaves with wide bases, narrow tips, and paired veins that arch toward the tip.

Similar non-native species: Common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) has sub-opposite, toothed leaves, and small woody spines at the ends of branches.

Documented Ecological Impacts

Fact Sheets and Identification Links

Control Methods

Small plants and seedlings may be pulled up by the roots when soil is moist; larger plants can be cut, but re-sprouting will occur.* Persistent cutting or mowing multiple times during the growing season over several years may kill the plant, but diligence is required (at least 3x/yr for 3 yrs is suggested). Mowing can prevent seedlings from establishing. Herbicides are effective as foliar applications (triclopyr or glyphosate solution), cut-stump applications (glyphosate or triclopyr solution applied immediately after cutting except in early spring), or basal bark application (for stems <6" diameter, triclopyr ester in oil). Special rules apply to herbicide use in or near wetlands and water bodies - consult the Maine Board of Pesticides Control.

* Correctly dispose of all plant parts † Follow all label directions when using herbicides

Control Technique Video Demonstrations

Please email if you have questions about invasive species in Maine

Frangula alnus fruit and leaves Glossy buckthorn fruit and leaves
Frangula alnus seedlings Glossy buckthorn seedlings
Frangula alnus leaf damage Glossy buckthorn unripe fruit and leaf damage from Japanese beetles