Poisonous Plants: Glossy False Buckthorn

Photo of Glossy False Buckthorn

I occasionally receive emails from people eager to know the identify of a particular fruit-bearing plant. Some have wondered if they've found Black Huckleberry. Others have guessed Choke Cherry. But all too often photos reveal their mystery plant to be Glossy False Buckthorn (Frangula alnus), a poisonous plant (or at least one with strong medicinal properties) as far as humans are concerned.

While there are many ways to tell these three species apart, one simple way is to examine the seeds. Each Choke Cherry contains one hard, central pit; each Black Huckleberry has ten small, crunchy seeds; Glossy False Buckthorn berries have __________. [I could tell you the answer, but it's more fun to go and find out for yourself. Report back with your findings.]

To learn more about this shrub, visit Go Botany. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

6 thoughts on “Poisonous Plants: Glossy False Buckthorn”

    1. Good question, Amy. You’ll see other names for this species. An older scientific name is Rhamnus frangula, and the common name in many sources is simply Glossy Buckthorn or Alder Buckthorn. But, you’re right, this shrub isn’t included in Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide. I’m guessing this may be because the plant is a relative newcomer to the northeast, and perhaps wasn’t as widespread back in 1977 when the book was published. I imagine if the book was updated in 2017, Glossy False Buckthorn would be included.

  1. Love your site and knowledge Josh! We live over the border in MA. The buckthorn producing berries on our back woodland edge right now has different colored maturing berries. Of course my 2 young wild children are curious bringing me their finds. The inside of this peach fuzz like immature berry was gorgeous. Reminded me of a core inside of a planet. Fiberous with a pinkish center. I did not get a chance to open up a ripen berry. I am interested in the medicinal properties of this plant if you have any knowledge or references. Thank you! Be well!

    1. Hi Caroline: Thanks for your positive feedback! The fruit your children found sounds intriguing. If you’re able to photograph the berries (or the shrubs) feel free to send images to me via email.

      You’ll need to consult a knowledgeable herbalist for details, but my understanding is that consuming the raw fruit (I’m not sure how much) or preparations of the bark can cause vomiting, upset stomach, and diarrhea. But, once dried and aged, the bark can apparently be used as a laxative.

  2. Hang on, we never got the answer… how many seeds in frangula alnus? And, from the pics I’ve seen, it looks like the fruit lacks the star-shape I associate with huckleberries, and the leaves seem a lot wider/rounder… can you confirm? Got some enthusiastic young huckleberry foragers in this family, and I want to be wary of mistakes! Thanks as always!

    1. Amy: There are typically 2 or 3 large seeds per fruit. And yes, the fruit lacks the five-parted calyx (found on Blueberries and Huckleberries) and instead has just a slight bump on the bottom. And spot-on with the leaves: they are rounder/wider than those of Black Huckleberry and are larger overall.

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