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Woody > Frangula > Frangula alnus > Frangula alnus

Frangula alnus

Glossy Buckthorn

Origin:  The Glossy Buckthorn is native to Europe, Western Asia, and some parts of North Africa. It was introduced in the 1800s to western North America and as far south as Tennessee, where it has naturalized.
            Mike's Opinion

this is Mike


I have had this plant in a pot in my collection for 2 years now. I was expecting it to show signs of adjusting to life in a pot (slowed growth), but this plant just keeps growing. It puts out shoots over 1 m per growing season and this autumn I had to, quite forcefully, remove the roots from my gravel driveway. This is credit to how prolific this plant is. It may not be suitable for Bonsai, which requires ramification. However, the leaves are pretty green, glossy and are a nice contrast to the dark bark. I would not use the glossy buckthorn in the North American landscape unless it is in a controlled setting where fruit can be removed.

Michael Pascoe, NDP., ODH., CLT., MSc. (Plant Conservation)


Tree (deciduous)
USDA Hardiness Zone
3 - 7
Canadian Hardiness Zone
1a - 7a
RHS Hardiness Zone
Temperature (°C)
-40 to -12
Temperature (°F)
-40 - 10
5 - 6 m
2 - 6 m
Description and Growing Information
Flowering Period
General Description
Frangula alnus is a small shrub with glossy green leaves and dark brown-grey bark.
In Europe it is generally used for hedges or as a small landscape tree. This plant attracts small birds with its berries. In North America this plant was originally brought over for ornamental use. Today it is naturalized, invasive and is not used in the landscape. F. alnus has a few cultivars that are gaining in popularity.
Tolerant of wet conditions as it is usually found in wetland areas. Glossy Buckthorn tolerates full sun to part shade and transplants well. While it isn't picky about soil types, well draining soil is best. It also transplants well and excels in moist conditions, as it is normally found in marshes.
Glossy Buckthorn is generally a multi-stemmed upright shrub, maturing to a small tree. It has a round and open appearance.
ID Characteristic
The main identifying characteristics of Frangula alnus are glossy green leaves, dark coloured bark, and shrub-like habit.
Crown rust is a pest that is concerning to farmers, as Frangula alnus can be a host for the disease and it can spread to grasses and crop plants like oats. Wilt infestation, terminal dieback and Japanese beetles have also been recorded. Grazing livestock may also consume the seedlings of this shrub, preventing it from spreading too quickly.
It grows naturally in wetlands, marshes, along riverbanks, forest edges and farmland in North America. It is known to grow in all types of soil, but it excels in wetter environments.
Bark/Stem Description
Bark is thin, spineless, initially green, maturing to dark brown and a more greyish brown on the trunk. Inner bark is yellowy-orange and vertical. White lenticels are prominent on outer bark.
Flower/Leaf Bud Description
The terminal buds of the Glossy Buckthorn are brown and without scales. Its terminal buds are larger than the lateral buds. Flower buds are small, round, and green in colour.
Leaf Description
Leaves are glossy, forest green in colour, 2-7 cm long, 2-5 cm wide and oval in shape. Top side of the leaves have clearly evident parallel veins, and the underside is a lighter green with ridged veins in sets of 8 or 9. Leaves have a brick red petiole arranged alternatively on stems. The Leaf shape is simple, entire and changes to yellow in autumn.
Flower Description
The flower is inconspicuous at 6 mm and pentagonal star shaped with 5 petals. The flowers form clusters of new growth at the base of the leaf. The shrub starts to flower in late spring and can last until early autumn. Flowers are perfect and white with chartreuse stalks. The flower is pollinated primarily by bees and flies.
Fruit Description
The fruit starts to mature in July, starting out red, and will continue into October, maturing to almost black. The drupes are round, 6-8 mm in diameter, fleshy, and containing 2 dicot seeds. Fruit is arranged alternately on stems. It is not uncommon to see ripe fruit with blooming flowers on the same stem. Fruit is toxic to humans.
Colour Description
The forest green, shiny leaves are a good contrast to the bark, which is greyish brown with light coloured lenticels. The leaves turn yellow in autumn and continue to turn a dirty yellow as the leaves start to fall. The leaf petioles are a reddish colour. The Glossy Buckthorn has small whitish green flowers, their fruit are red ripening to black.
Texture Description
Frangula alnus is medium in texture. After leafing out it is more course looking during winter months.
Seeds germinate at a temperature of 5°C in 60 days in damp peat moss. Seeds can also be treated with sulfuric acid for 20 minutes to disrupt dormancy. Sow in spring at a planting depth of 10-40 mm. Softwood cuttings can be taken from June to July. Afterwards, the cuttings need to be treated with 8.000 parts per million IBA. In the wild, seeds are mainly germinated by birds.
Ethnobotanical Uses (Disclaimer)
The Glossy Buckthorn’s bark is used to make yellow dyes. Its bark can be dried for several years. It can then be steeped to make a tea for use as a laxative. The bark needs to be dried for at least a year, if not more. The longer the bark is dried, the less potent the tea will be.