Should I get rid of this Rhamnus cathartica?

dash_2006November 3, 2013

I knoow this is invasive Rhamnus cathrtica (if not, please let me know). The berries are cute and pretty. The bark almost reminds me of cherry tree.

I see these everywhere at this property where I visit. The next neighbor has lots of them as well. I feel I should recommend that we should eradicate them. Or are they pretty enough to keep? I see myriads of seedlings germinating underneath the trees. We could monitor by pulling them every summer.

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

If people don't work on infestations of invasive plants they just keep becoming more numerous. On the one hand with the most abundant ones it can seem the cat is out of the bag (and down the street) but on the other the fact that so many property owners/occupants are not aware of the problem, make no control efforts whatsoever surely must have a significant effect.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 12:37PM
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'Is it pretty enough to keep?' - that is COMPLETELY up to you.

Here is the thing - there is a LOT of effort put in to controlling invasives. But stuff like buckthorn, kudzu and creeping charlie are too far gone to eradicate by hand. It is a futile effort unless you want to engineer buckthorn blight or something.
So weigh you own pros and cons and decide for yourself. I PERSONALLY HATE buckthorn and would whack it because of:
1) thorns
2) billions of little babies from those seeds choke everything else out

but they are marginally attractive (I think they were originally brought over to use as hedging if i am not mistaken) and don't get overly large (for tight spaces)

Other thing to consider is there might be laws about propagating invasives in your area, but I DOUBT you will be thrown in jail. Hopefully....

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 12:54PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I would say definitely get rid of R. cathartica - aka common buckthorn. On top of being highly invasive, it is UGLY. The flowers are practically invisible, what's worse, the berries give birds diarrhea so they will poop them out everywhere from the nearest branches (cathartic).

It is a dioecious species, so remove the fruiting specimens first. Cut and paint freshly cut stump with concentrate of woody plant/brush killer. You may need to hit them again.

I have removed much of this from my lot, along with glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus aka Rhamnus frangula), which is an even worse invasive.

I agree with Bboy that with some plants the cat is out of the bag, but I can't imagine how much more numerous the buckthorns would be on my lot and the neighborhood if I hadn't been removing them from both for the past 8 years.

The best thing about buckthorn is the wood is super hard - I build trellises with it.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 5:28PM
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bboy, corkball, and terrene:

Thank you very much for your generous kind advice.

I already removed one of the four grown-up Backthorns without letting the owner know. This one was growing right by the beautiful ash tree in a competitive manner. I was sure if I had told the owner, she would have protested. I was sweating when sawing it off in the dark.

Now, for the other three, I really have to talk to the owner. The problem is that the removal creates empty holes here and there where there have been some efforts of landscape design. Also,they are very established after a long neglect and ignorance. I understand it will be a challenge. I have to come up with very attractive alternatives.

As some of you suggested, there is no way that I can control the population of the Buckthorn in the neighborhood. But, at least, I can be proud of not being so ignorant.

Yea, at least I can keep one male of this dioecious tree. Then, it will end up no pretty berries. I will keep only one female at this property:)

So what happens to the earth if we just don't do anything about the invasive plants. I just saw a documentary about the disappearing blue fin tuna due to ever-increasing sushi eating population in the world. Well the plants do not eat other plants so it does not have chain reactions. But it is still scary.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 9:42PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

"Well the plants do not eat other plants so it does not have chain reactions."

Invasive plant populations do "eat" native plant populations. That is the big issue with invasive plants: they tend to cause the displacement and possibly the extinction of other flora and fauna species. I often refer to invasive plants as exponentially-reproducing biological hazardous waste/litter.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 10:56PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi Dash, that is great you are trying to work on the invasives. I have busted my back eradicating invasives for over 8 years. I cut oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) and buckthorn from mine and some neighboring properties (next door neighbor is okay with me cutting invasives and I also abut a school and some conservation land, where I cut and pull), but on others I do not have access. There is only so much you can do. Invasive plants will continue to spread unless the other homeowners do something too. My long term plan is to continue trying to eradicate them, regardless.

I still have a Burning bush or 2 in front, in shady spots, and they still fruit a little - the color is nice, and the berries are pretty, but nevertheless they are slated to be removed as other plants fill in. Also in the way back, some invasives remain, I am working my way back, and it's a constant struggle with a tangle of overgrowth where some invasives still grow.

It's also a bit daunting when the Starlings (invasive bird) decide to chow down on a huge patch of bittersweet berries somewhere in the neighborhood, land in the canopy of my tall Pin Oak, and poop them out all over the bird feeders and deck underneath. They seem to be attracted to this tree because it is possibly the tallest tree in the neighborhood. :-/

Good luck. :)

    Bookmark   November 4, 2013 at 8:25PM
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terrene(5b MA)

PS There are many natives that have pretty berries to replace R. cathartica. As the invasives are removed, I have planted many native shrubs and small trees, dogwoods, american hazelnut, elderberry, etc. The birds and squirrels are working to spread natives around instead of the invasives. Already native seedlings are popping up here and there.

Here is a small sampling. The birds LOVE the berries on these shrubs. They are picked clean within a week or two of ripening. Dogwood pics are from this year, the Elderberry from 2009.

Cornus racemosa - grey dogwood -

Cornus alternifolia - alternate leaf or pagoda dogwood - this one looks a bit like R. cathartica, but it is more ornamental. The branching structure is striking; and the flowers much more showy. Hardy native.

Sambucus canadensis, native elderberry -

    Bookmark   November 4, 2013 at 8:43PM
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I completely understand it. Before non-native plants invasion, everything was in balance as a result of a long stable plant history. The very reason of this non-native invasion is clear because of the fact they are multiplying everywhere as opposed to being checked in the native land. I feel human intervention is necessary.


I think there are lack of environmentally conscious minds in our society. To get to the educated mindful stage, one has to go through the stages of gardening experience, nature admiration, conservation, meditation, etc. Most people are so busy in their daily struggles that they don't find a time to ponder life in general, let alone, appreciate the nature. I know it because I was trying to convert every person I meet to a tree person in vain. They just don't listen! :)

Thank you for dogwoods and elderberry pictures. Yes, they are much more attractive than buckthorn, I will use this list to show the owner in question. Also, mountain ash and viburnum would be nice?

Regarding starlings, I always thought Rose Colored Starling is prettier. It should be introduced to the US:)

    Bookmark   November 4, 2013 at 11:53PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi Dash, in 2007 and 2008, I bought 1-2 year old seedlings of a bunch of native shrubs and small trees. This included a couple Viburnum species (V. dentatum and V. lentago) and Sorbus americana. The mountain ash did not thrive, and the Viburnums are doing so-so. They have just started flowering, and have not fruited heavily yet. There was one particularly nice V. lentago seedling.

It has been an exercise in trying to see what does okay on my dry, upland lot, with part shade and root competition from large trees (especially water hogs like Silver maples). Honestly, not much thrives in such conditions! Many natives prefer more sun and water. Elderberry tends to lose leaves and go dormant in dry conditions, but it survives. Gray dogwood will die back when it's super dry, but again it survives fine.

Also, with natives, you might get a bit more insect munching on some plants, but I don't mind, as long as the plants aren't defoliated relentlessly (the Hazelnuts tend to get munched), and the birds are attracted to a healthy insect population. And if you think the average American doesn't understand invasives, they understand insects even less!

If one is concerned about growing the most attractive specimens, then nursery cultivars would probably be the best choice.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 1:43AM
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beng(z6 western MD)

Terrene, thanks for the juicy fruit pics -- always like those.

As you say, those dogwood berries don't last long, even tho they taste bitter. One red-osier dogwood along my stream had a full load of whitish berries, then a week later I did a double take -- every one was gone.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 8:00AM
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If you are in zone 5 in MA, I thought you are luckier with water than CO. Here, mountain ash is very healthy and germinate readily naturally. As a matter of fact, a couple month ago, I found a 2' seedling of Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and planted it in a small pot. It already went through leaf color change and into dormancy. I may put this one at the property in question. Also, I have Golden Rain Trees and Red bud seedlings (tiny, though) as well. If the owner is patient enough, I could put these as well.

The difficult thing here is to grow flowering dogwoods and ornamental Japanese cherry trees due to alkaline soil. Other than that, I am amazed there are many trees thrives in the cities where there used to be only Rabbit bushes and sages.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 10:59PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi Beng, I'm really enjoying seeing how these plants now flower and make berries, after starting them from 1 foot seedlings. Also, the birds they attract, although honestly I miss most of that action cuz I'm usually too busy to sit and bird watch. The berries just disappear! :)

Hi Dash, didn't realize you were in CO, it is an entirely different growing culture out there. Can't be sure which natives or at least non-invasive non-natives would work best for you. And can't even be sure that the Buckthorns would be as invasive out where you live? Have you observed them seeding in wild areas? In the northeast US they are highly adaptable plants, and do well upland or wetland.

Yes here in the east we generally get more precipitation than the western states, which is nice. I happen to live on a well-drained upland lot - and eastern Mass. happens to be the only part of the eastern US than is in moderate drought right now, so it gets a little droughty at times, dry being relative of course.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 1:18AM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

We have a native Rhamnus here called R. purshiana. Commonly called Cascara, or as Sunset magazine says, Chittam Bark. (lol) It's a cathartic also, and is the main ingredient of a common laxative. If you come in contact with the wet cambium layer with your hands, or even breath the smoke, you'll be doing the quick step to the bathroom. I speak from experience. :-)

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 4:27AM
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Yes, at least in the city where student housings have
neglected yards, I see many Rhamnus cathartica growing. I am not sure in the foothills, though. I 'll have to hike there to see.


I took a look at the picture of Cascara. It looks somewhat similar to Rhamnus cathartica and yet it is native and confined to the area near Seattle. The way you described the trip to the bathroom asserted me it is not a popular plant. But certainly are they commercially planted for that purpose ?

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 11:00PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

I don't know of any commercial plantings of Cascara. The kids around here used to peel the bark off the trees and then dry it for sale. That was forty years ago. I don't have any current info.
I don't have any Ex-lax around here, but I think I remember one of the ingredients listed on the package was Cascara sagrada, which is another term for Rhamnus purshiana.
Fairly common in the woods here, but never a problem having too many. A lot of people mistake it for our common Alder, Alnus oregona. Red Alder, formerly known as Alnus rubra.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2013 at 6:46AM
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Thanks for Cascara info. I would like to grow this tree for curiosity sake. It is cool to be able to say to a friend
in distress 'You can have Cascara sagrada whenever you need it'.

Today, I visited the property in question with a arborist the owner hired. I found total 4 trees of Rhamnus cathartica, all of which are female. Neighbor has three or four much bigger trees that are also female gender. So, I could not locate a single male trees. It was a strange feeling that I got compelled to find male trees.

Anyway, this arborist recommended we leave them alone there just because they are pretty as they are located and with a hint of financial difficulty in replacing them. Yea, that's life, I understand.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2013 at 11:01PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

Maybe I can find a small one. Hard to find now that the leaves have fallen, but I know what to look for.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2013 at 12:43AM
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Thank you for your kind offer. But I have to think about your trouble, jeopardizing your health. Also, come to think of it, I have only pots space in my balcony at this time. Although it is tempting to grow such a fascinating plant in a pot, I may worry about an adverse consequence too much and get nervous breakdown.

I used to live in Seattle. It is the best place to live IMO.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2013 at 9:53PM
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