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Carolina Buckthorn Frangula caroliniana (Rhamnus caroliniana)


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Carolina Buckthorn, leaves and immature fruit
credit: Mason Brock (Masebrock)

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Alternate name: Indian-cherry, Yellowwood, Carolina False Buckthorn

Family: Rhamnaceae, Buckthorn view all from this family

Description Carolina buckthorn is an upright shrub or small tree native to the Southeastern United States. There is a local disjunct population in Mexico as well.

Rhamnus caroliniana is usually around 12 to 15 feet high, but capable of reaching 40 feet in a shaded location. The most striking characteristic of this plant are its shiny, dark green leaves. The flowers are very small and inconspicuous, pale yellow-green, bell-shaped, appearing in leaf axils in late spring after the leaves. The fruit is a small (1/3 inch) round drupe; at first red, but later turning black with juicy flesh. It ripens in late summer.

Despite its common name, the Carolina Buckthorn is completely thornless.

Warning Bark and fruit can be toxic to humans if ingested; fatalities are very rare. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plantís different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.

Comments In light shade, Carolina buckthorn is airy and tiered, somewhat like the flowering dogwoods. Three to four hours per day of sun are necessary. With more sun, the plant tends to get dense and shrubby. Seedlings are produced in profusion. The ripe berries attract birds, and leaves and bark are browsed by deer.

Exposure Preference Partial sun to shade.

Flower April - June

Native Distribution S.w. Virginia to Ohio, s. Illinois & Nebraska, s. to Florida & Texas

Site Preference Bottomlands; stream banks; woods

Soil Preference Moist, calcareous, rocky soils.

Wildlife Value Ripe berries attract birds. Leaves and bark are browsed by deer.