Purging Buckthorn
(Rhamnus cathartica)
Simple
Roundish
Opposite
Toothed

leaves

Winter twig
Winter twig

flowers

green fruits

ripe fruits

Brimstone butterfly
Brimstone butterfly

distribution map

The opposite or nearly opposite, round to oval, hairless leaves, 3-7cm long, are hairless. They have finely toothed margins and 3-4 pairs of veins curving upwards. They are arranged in circular clusters on short shoots.

ID check

Purging buckthorn is a deciduous shrub, occasionally reaching 10 m in height but is usually only 4-6 m high. It is almost restricted to lime-rich soils, where it grows in woods, scrub and hedgerows.

The opposite branches bear long and short shoots. The latter are leafy and often end in a spine.

The flowers, which appear in June, have 4 small greenish sepals and petals. Male and female flowers may occur on separate bushes.

Female flowers will produce pea-sized fruits, green at first, but becoming black when ripe. They appear from September onwards.

Facts

  • Purging buckthorn is one of the food plants of the caterpillars of the brimstone butterfly (see photograph).

  • The berries are purgative, but not poisonous to humans and are eaten by birds in winter, with no apparent harmful effect.

  • The leaves are often attacked by a fungus, crown rust, which appears as orange specks.

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