Buckthorn is an invasive plant that originated in Western Asia and Europe and was introduced to North America in the early 1800s as an ornamental shrub. It creates a major problem for the native species by forming dense stands that dominate ecosystems and displace native species. It is primarily an issue in the understory of woods, prairies, savanna, and rocky sites as well.
It can grow aggressively large because of its ability to grow in both full sun and shaded understory.The plant casts dense shade which has a particularly destructive effect on tree seedlings, bushes, and wildflowers. They can reach 20-25' in height but are mostly seen locally as dense shrubs. In addition, it drops berries which are spread by birds, thus contributing to its wide dominance.
While you can often see it growing in gardens around the North Shore, it is now illegal to sell in Illinois. In my own garden, I recognize them as tiny seedlings and pull them out immediately. But they are incredibly plentiful and I'll wager that you didn't know you might have some in your own yard.
They are most commonly seen along the Green Bay Trail as it winds through Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, Glencoe, and further north. In Winnetka, buckthorn is cut down early in the season, but they inevitably grow back. Glencoe has been more aggressive using a fungicide on the stump after cutting. This has resulted in the ability of the Friends of the Green Bay Trail to help return the path to its original prairie - a years long endeavor that continues today.
Because I have two dogs that are walked every evening I can see the copious stands of free-ranging buckthorn that is choking gardens. It also has, obviously, some serious thorns.
If you see this seedling in your garden - yank it!
Cut buckthorn that is growing back along the Green Bay Trail in Winnetka
In a resident's front yard
Section of Green Bay Trail in Glencoe that has been cleared of buckthorn
Close up of mature leaves
Not just another tall hedge . . .
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Margaret Goss is a full-time real estate broker since 1998 working in the North Shore communities of Winnetka, Wilmette, Kenilworth, Glencoe, Northfield, Glenview, and Evanston.
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