Tree Killers: Glossy Buckthorn

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  • Common English name: Glossy Buckthorn
  • Other names: alder buckthorn, breaking buckthorn
  • Latin (scientific) name: Rhamnus frangula or Frangula alnus

Threat type

150x150 plants

History in Canada

  • brought to North America in the late 1800’s for landscape planting
  • first recorded in Canada in London (1898) and Ottawa (1899)
  • by 1975 it had spread across much of southern Ontario
  • most abundant in southern Ontario but also occurs west to Saskatchewan and east to Prince Edward Island
  • still available from nurseries


  • shrub or small tree (up to 6 m or 20 ft tall) that produces large numbers of dark berry-like fruits, singly or in small groups, along younger branches at the base of the leaves
  • oval-shaped leaves have a wavy edge with smooth edges, unlike Common Buckthorn whose leaf edges are serrated
  • leaves come out early in spring and remain on the plant until late fall which shades out most native plants
    often forms dense thickets that exclude most other plants
  • fruits are poisonous to most animals but some birds eat them readily and may be largely responsible for the spread of Glossy Buckthorn since the seeds within the fruit pass through the bird without damage
  • seeds remain viable in the soil up to three years
  • prefers wetlands but can grow in a range of upland areas, such as forests and woodland edges
  • very invasive due to its high seed production and wide tolerance to a range of growing conditions

Impact on Trees

  • grows in dense stands that prevents the establishment of tree seedlings and greatly reduces the survival of young saplings due to heavy shade

What can be done to control this tree killer?

  • cutting or girdling stems followed by herbicide application to the cut stems or later removal of sprouts that develop after cutting or girdling
  • herbicide applied late fall when Buckthorn is still growing but other forest plants are dormant
  • annual or biennial burns
  • mowing younger stands
  • several years of control are needed since seeds are unaffected by the above methods and seedlings can quickly recolonize an area

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