It’s an invasive plant; growing where I don’t want it to grow. Taking over. Shading out other plants, especially new little ones trying to establish. Buckthorn is its common name. It was once considered an attractive ornamental plant, especially when it was introduced into the United States in the mid-1800s.

Not content to remain as an ornamental, it escaped and proceeded to go on a growing rampage, especially in the oak woodlots on sandy farms such as mine. I have buckthorn twenty feet tall, looking like small trees. I have buckthorn six inches tall, and everything in between. It will grow in the shade; it will grow in full sun. It will grow on sandy soil and heavier soil. I even found buckthorn growing in the middle of my tractor shed, which has a dirt floor and little light.

Birds love Buckthorn. Mature plants produce abundant purple berries that begin to ripen from August through September. Each berry contains three to four seeds that remain viable in the soil for up to three years. The berries have a laxative effect on birds and mammals assuring widespread distribution of buckthorn through their droppings. The Latin name for Buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica, recognizes this characteristic of the plant.

Few plants are as competitive as Buckthorn. It is one of the first plants to leaf out in the spring, and one of the last to drop its leaves in the fall. Buckthorn is also allelopathic, which means it produces chemical compounds that inhibit the growth of other vegetation.

I work at controlling this energetic invasive. But I am not winning the battle.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Nature has its challenges. Buckthorn is one of them.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to 

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