Frangula alnus (Glossy Buckthorn)

Plant Info
Also known as: Columnar Buckthorn, Fen Buckthorn, European Buckthorn, Alder Buckthorn
Family:Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn)
Life cycle:perennial woody
  • Invasive - ERADICATE!
  • Noxious Weed
  • Prohibited or Restricted species
Habitat:part shade, shade, sun; moist; woods, wetlands
Bloom season:May - September
Plant height:to 20 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FACW NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] Clusters about 1 inch across in the leaf axils of new growth, 2 to 8 flowers in a cluster. Flowers are perfect (both male and female parts present), yellowish or greenish white, about 1/8 inch across on a stalk ¼ to 1/3 inch long, with 5 erect, triangular sepals, 5 white tipped stamens and single style.

Leaves and bark: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[scan of leaves]   Leaves are simple and alternate, the blade oblong elliptic, 1½ to 3 inches long and 1 to 1½ inches wide, tapered at the base, the tip rounded or with an abrupt point, toothless and often wavy around the edges, the upper surface glossy, lower surface smooth or finely hairy on the veins, on a ¼ to ¾ inch stalk. The 6 to 9 veins per side are strongly parallel to each other before curving abruptly towards the tip at the leaf edge. Leaves can turn a bright golden, at least in part, in the fall though often remain green until cold temperatures freeze them off the tree.

[photo of bark] The trunk can be single but more often multiple from the base; a single trunk is rarely over 4 inches in diameter and clusters of multiples are typically more slender. The bark is dusky to dark gray, splotched to various degrees by lighter patches of aged, sometimes warty lenticels (pores), the cambium (layer of tissue just under the bark) is a greenish yellow, the center heartwood reddish orange.

[photo of lenticels] New growth is reddish green with minute hairs and prominent white vertical lenticels, the 2nd year twigs becoming brownish with flaking gray bark, the dormant twig tips with minute brown fuzz-like hairs. There is no thorn present. The older branches turn a dusty gray brown with splotchy white lenticels. The roots are a distinctive red.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a red berry, turning shiny black when ripe, ¼ to 1/3 inch in diameter on a short stalk, with purplish flesh surrounding 2-3 seeds in the center. The fruit is readily consumed by birds which spread this invasive species through their droppings.


Glossy buckthorn was imported from Europe in the early 1900s as a landscape shrub. It was not widely disseminated in the nursery trade in Minnesota until the mid to late 70s. Popular cultivars of it had narrow, columnar forms or fine feathery foliage with names like Tallhedge Buckthorn and Fernleaf Buckthorn. All of these cultivars produce fruit with viable seeds that are spread by birds, and within one or two generations revert back to the natural, small spreading tree form that is aggressive in the landscape. Concerns in Minnesota over environmental damage due to the rampant spread of both buckthorn species into natural areas came to a head in the late 1990s when Common Buckthorn was listed as a restricted noxious weed in 1999. While this was fiercely opposed by the nursery industry, Glossy followed suite in 2001 thanks to the equally ferocious passion of Mary Maguire Lerman (Buckthorn Mary) of the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board. Ultimately Glossy Buckthorn itself may prove to be the most ferocious invader. It is very aggressive in both upland forests and wetlands like rare fens and tamarack bogs and even tolerating dry, sandy prairie habitats. Unlike Common Buckthorn that takes several years to regenerate fruiting branches after being cutback and produces only one crop of fruits per season, Glossy easily flowers and fruits on first year suckers, and produces flowers and fruits all season long. While many in the industry still today lament the loss of this commodity, buckthorn control continues to eat up an disproportionate amount of many resource managers budgets for which the responsible parties have never had to pay a dime.

Dormant identification for this species is important. Look for the dull gray bark with varying degrees of patchy white and roundish lenticels throughout twigs, branches and trunk. The twigs are thornless and covered by fine, brown wool-like hairs and while the cambium under the thin bark is not as deeply colored yellow-orange as Common Buckthorn, the heartwood is clearly a similar reddish-orange, and the roots are a distinctive red.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Anoka and Ramsey counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at locations across Minnesota


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Patrick - St. Paul
on: 2013-12-14 13:05:30

Thanks for adding buckthorn to your website. I keep telling people what a great resource Minnesota Wildflowers is. Many people now are at least aware of common buckthorn, but a lot less are familiar with glossy. As a land manager I'm beginning to see more and more glossy. And on another note, I just find it crazy that there is so much resistance to outlawing such problem species, especially when there are such beautiful natives as alternatives. People should look more closely at high bush cranberry, chokeberry, serviceberry, and others more often.

Posted by: Linda - Thomas Lake Park, Eagan MN
on: 2015-06-16 16:05:13

It is a pretty shrub but non-native and aggressive--'nuff said. I found it across from the park shelter on the lake side of the paved path just before it heads downhill to the "lookout" bench. A native chokecherry is a foot away.

Posted by: gary - St. Louis County
on: 2019-04-29 17:58:36

I found a dense colony in some wet woods near the Canosia Road.

Posted by: gary - Carlton County
on: 2019-04-30 16:55:38

It is in Moose Lake both in the town and on the Munger Trail. Also in Barnum. I saw some last autumn in Scanlon on the River Trail (I think that's what it is called) that runs between Carlton and Scanlon.

Posted by: Ann R - Detroit Lakes
on: 2020-11-15 15:22:13

It is also within city limits of Detroit Lakes, Becker County.

Posted by: Jeremy Kollmann - Harder Park, North Branch
on: 2021-04-28 16:54:53

Becoming dominant under the oak canopy in the wooded areas.

Posted by: Harry Barnes - GUELPH
on: 2021-10-07 15:30:59

how much was spent on trying to do away with dandelion??

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-10-07 15:47:58

Harry, how does that relate go glossy buckthorn?

Posted by: Steve Thomforde - Bloomington
on: 2021-10-08 07:47:20

Like so many so called "invasive species", is glossy BT really invasive or might it instead be merely symptomatic of poor management, inaccurate vegetation classifications, and eutrophication? Thinking in terms of only "invasive" forces management to consider only fast variables, system behaviors, and symptoms, and not the slow variables, system constraints, and causes.

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