Buckthorn is a treatable invasive plant that threatens native habitats like woodlands and meadows, depending on the species. Competition and damage to natural habitats disrupt not only regional plant life, but extend to the wildlife inhabiting those areas. Treatment for buckthorn is necessary to preserve and leave undisturbed long-established, native ecosystems.
Common buckthorn (Rhamnus catharticus) is also referred to as European buckthorn. Glossy buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) is commonly known as smooth buckthorn or European alder. Both buckthorn plants are large shrubs or small trees that grow within a height range of 10 to 25 feet. Common buckthorn displays matte or shiny green toothed leaves. Glossy buckthorn displays glossy, deep green leaves without teeth, according to the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension. Both plants also produce berries. Common buckthorn produces green berries that become black; glossy buckthorn produces red berries that become black.
Buckthorns are woody perennials that spread rapidly, particularly when left untreated, according to the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension. The spread of these plants occurs when birds and other wildlife feed on buckthorn fruit. Seeds present in wildlife excrement are spread to varying areas.
In locations offering full sun exposure, buckthorns quickly grow. Producing dense growth, buckthorn thickets often invade woodland borders, thinned woodlands, prairies, marshes and other wetlands, according to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Publications. These areas need to be monitored closely, applying treatment as soon as symptoms are apparent. Preventive treatment, as well, is essential in discouraging the rapid spread of buckthorn.
Buckthorn creates an understory layer in native habitats. The dense buckthorn thickets suffocate other plants by rapidly creating excessive shade. Wildlife vegetation disappears, causing animal decline as well as the overall diminished health of entire woodland or wetland areas, according to the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension. Other plants cannot compete with the dense buckthorn plant. Due to the aggressive, speedy nature of this plant, preventive and diagnostic treatment are necessary in protecting forests and their wildlife.
Preventive treatment makes for less challenging control as opposed to attempting to deal with a problem that is already out of hand. For small, visible buckthorns, pull the entire plant and roots from the ground by hand, when manageable. For larger buckthorns, cut down to a stump, but keep in mind that buckthorn quickly re-sprouts and stumps need herbicidal application. Both fire and flooding are control options to either burn buckthorn from prairies or to reestablish appropriate water levels in wetlands, according to the University of Wisconsin Extension. As the fire and water methods are extreme, contact a licensed professional, your local county extension agent, or a restoration expert if these options seem fitting.
When preventive and natural methods are not enough or when you have exposed stumps, turn to chemical control. Herbicides offer an effective treatment for buckthorn control. Apply a chemical with the active ingredient glyphosate or triclopyr, according to the University of Wisconsin Extension. Contact a licensed professional for chemical application assistance; keep in mind that herbicides like glyphosate are non-selective, meaning they will kill anything they come into contact with, including desired plants.