Purging buckthorn

Purging Buckthorn

©Eli Sagor

Purging buckthorn

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.

Species information


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.

How to identify

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


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.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts work closely with farmers and landowners to ensure that our wildlife is protected and to promote wildlife-friendly practices. By working together, we can create Living Landscapes: networks of habitats stretching across town and country that allow wildlife to move about freely and people to enjoy the benefits of nature. Support this greener vision for the future by joining your local Wildlife Trust.