Description & Overview

Buckthorn gets a bad rap, but this is one buckthorn that is native to Wisconsin and thornless! Commonly found growing in bogs, swamps, fens, and moist woodlands, Alder-leaf buckthorn has an affinity to wetter sites. Reaching up to 4 feet tall, this low-growing shrub is fairly non-descript. The leaves are a pleasant shade of green, toothed around the edges and similar to an alder’s leaf (hence the name). Flowering occurs in mid-Spring with male and female flowers on separate plants, though they are small and inconspicuous. Female plants, if cross-pollinated, will bear black drupes that are readily eaten by birds. Foliage will turn an attractive shade of yellow in the fall.

Core Characteristics

Category: Shrub

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 6-12 feet

Mature Spread: 6-12 feet

Growth Rate: Moderate

Growth Form: Spreading, naturalizes

Light Requirements: Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Moist soil

Flower: Yellow-green, inconspicuous, ¼" wide, 5-pointed, dioecious

Bloom Period: May – June, mid-to-late Spring

Foliage: Glossy green, alternate

Fall Color: Yellow

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Black drupe containing three seeds

Suggested Uses

By planting Alder-leaf Buckthorn control around stream banks or river’s edges, soil stabilization can take place, thus reducing soil erosion and runoff into our waterways.

As an understory planting, this plant will perform well in the dappled shade of other trees and shrubs provided there is ample moisture. Plus, wouldn’t a sea of golden-yellow be beautiful to see in the fall?

This plant is not recommended for urban landscapes due to its proclivity to spreading and the toxic berries that would be right at child-eyes level.

Buckthorn gets a bad rap, but this is one buckthorn that is native to Wisconsin and thornless! Commonly found growing in bogs, swamps, fens, and moist…

Wildlife Value

There is not very much information on the floral/faunal relationships with Alder-leaf Buckthorn. It is a host plant to the Tawny Pug (Eupithecia ravocostaliata). The American Bumble bee (Bombus pensylvanicus) visits the flowers.

Maintenance Tips

The suckers can be removed as needed, however, it’s best to let Alder-leaf buckthorn do what it wants to do and spread across the landscape.

Buckthorn gets a bad rap, but this is one buckthorn that is native to Wisconsin and thornless! Commonly found growing in bogs, swamps, fens, and moist…

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: Unknown

Insufficient data regarding rabbit resistance.

Leaf Lore

A decoction of the back was used for constipation by the Meswaki peoples. The Iroquois used Alder-leaf Buckthorn as a treatment for bad backs, as a blood purifier in children, and as a poultice that was applied to swelling caused by poison.

Rhamnus, the genus, is the Greek name for this plant.

Companion Plants

More plants that do well in moist-wet soils are:

  • Golden Groundsel (Packera aurea)
  • Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia)
  • Shreve’s Iris (Iris virginica var. shrevei)
  • Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense)
  • Labrador Violet (Viola labradorica)
  • Fox Sedge (Carex vulpinoidea)
  • Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
  • Riddell’s Goldenrod (Solidago riddellii)
  • Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa)
  • Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana)
  • Wild Hyacinth (Camassia scilloides)
Buckthorn gets a bad rap, but this is one buckthorn that is native to Wisconsin and thornless! Commonly found growing in bogs, swamps, fens, and moist…
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Written by Beth DeLain