Rhamnus cathartica. Getty Images

Rhamnus cathartica

Purging buckthorn

  • Botanical name: Rhamnus cathartica
  • Common name: Purging buckthorn
  • Family: Rhamnaceae
  • Plant Type: Shrub, Tree, Deciduous
Flower colour:


Foliage colour:


Purging buckthorn is a small tree, often used as a shrub or hedging plant, which is native to England and Wales and much of Europe. It has grey-brown bark and spiny branches, and glossy, dark green, toothed leaves, which turn yellow before falling in autumn. Purging buckthorn is dioceous, meaning its yellow-green, male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. After pollination the female flowers develop into slightly poisonous black berries. Indeed, purging buckthorn is so named due to its traditional use as a laxative, thanks to the purgative effects of eating the berries. It can grow to an eventual height of 10m.


It’s very closely related to alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus), which is thornless.

In the United States of America, purging buckthorn is highly invasive. However, in Britain, being native, it has no such problems. What’s more, purging buckthorn is a fantastic wildlife plant – its leave are used as a caterpillar food plant by the brimstone butterfly, its flowers are visited by pollinators and its berries are eaten by birds. It makes a fantastic addition to a wildlife hedge.

Where to buy purging buckthorn

This page contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.


How to grow Rhamnus cathartica

  • Plant size

    10m height

    4m spread

  • Sun exposure: Dappled shade, full sun, partial shade
  • Shade type: Damp
  • Soil type: Acidic / chalky / alkaline / clay / heavy / moist / well drained / light / sandy

Rhamnus cathartica and wildlife

Rhamnus cathartica is known for attracting bees, beneficial insects, birds, butterflies​/​moths and other pollinators. It is a caterpillar food plant, has nectar/pollen rich flowers, provides shelter and habitat, has seeds for birds and makes a good wildlife hedge.

Attractive to Bees

Attractive to Beneficial insects

Attractive to Birds

Attractive to Butterflies​/​Moths

Attractive to Other pollinators

Is Rhamnus cathartica poisonous?

Rhamnus cathartica causes an upset stomach. Its foliage and fruit are toxic.

Toxic to:

Toxic to Cats

Toxic to Dogs

Toxic to Horses

Toxic to Livestock

Toxic to People

No reported toxicity to:

No reported toxicity to Birds