Purging Buckthorn

©Eli Sagor

Purging buckthorn

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Scientific name: Rhamnus cathartica
An uncommon hedgerow and woodland tree of central and eastern England, Purging buckthorn displays yellow-green flowers in spring, and poisonous, black berries in autumn.

Top facts


Height: 10-12m

Conservation status


When to see

January to December


Purging buckthorn, sometimes simply called 'Buckthorn', is a small, spiny tree of woodland, scrub and hedgerows on chalky soils. It is widespread, but scarce, across lowland areas of central and eastern England. Clusters of small, yellow-green flowers appear in late spring, and bunches of poisonous, black berries ripen in autumn. Purging buckthorn is the main foodplant of the Brimstone butterfly in the areas where it grows, but Alder buckthorn is used as an alternative.

What to look for

Purging buckthorn is a small, spiny shrub. It displays oval, finely toothed leaves and clusters of black berries.

Where to find

Widespread, but scarce, in England and Wales.

Did you know?

Purging buckthorn is so-named because its berries are a strong laxative ('purgative') for humans; they can also irritate the skin.