Species list


Rhamnus cathartica


Buckthorn, common buckthorn, purging buckthorn (Eng), espino cerval (Spa), espina-cervina (Cat), hesilaharra (Baq), espiño cerval (Glg), espinheiro-cerval (Por).


DID YOU KNOW...? The fruits of the buckthorn are a powerful purgative.


This is a shrub or small tree which can reach 8 m in height. The trunk and branches are often somewhat twisted. It has numerous thorny branches, and the bark darkens over time until it becomes blackish. The leaves are deciduous, simple, and generally opposite (this character is best seen in the middle part of the branches, as at the ends they are very close together and at the base they are alternate). They are broadly oval and have a slightly toothed margin. The yellowish-green flowers are inconspicuous and they do not smell pleasant. The round, black fruit is smaller than a pea. It is fleshy and contains 2 to 4 small seeds, a characteristic that distinguishes it from the mahaleb cherry tree (Prunus mahaleb L.), a species with which it is sometimes confused. It can live for more than 100 years.


The buckthorn needs loose, moist, chalky soils. For this reason we find it in cool waterways and on the banks of watercourses, provided that the soil is not waterlogged or too compacted and clayey. It may be associated with Pyrenean oaks, ash trees, rowan and holly.


This tree lives throughout most of Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. On the Iberian Peninsula it is mainly found in the centre and north, but never appears in large numbers and rarely forms copses. It is scarce toward the east and Andalucía.