Buckthorn is an invasive species that was imported from Europe as an ornamental shrub in the 19th century intended for creating privacy on properties. Since then it has spread throughout much of the Midwest in North America where it continues to outcompete native plants and disturb local ecosystems. Buckthorn:

  • Grows extremely fast
  • Has an extended growing season compared to native plants
  • Berries are slightly toxic and act as a laxative when ingested by wildlife, which helps the plan spread spread easily
  • Emits a chemical called “Emodin” into the ground, which is toxic for plants and animals
  • Takes over forest floor and outcompetes smaller trees for light
  • Contributes to erosion by decreasing biodiversity and soil health
  • Lacks competition.

Buckthorn Removal Volunteer Opportunity

Come volunteer and learn with the City of Hopkins while removing and managing buckthorn in two Hopkins locations. 

Volunteers will help remove buckthorn from park property and learn best practices in managing buckthorn at home.   

When: Saturday, November 4, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Shady Oak Pond (not to be confused with Shady Oak Beach) at the intersection of 21st Avenue N and 1st Street N.
What to bring/wear: 
Wear outdoor/weather appropriate clothes. Buckthorn can be spikey and sharp, so keep that in mind. Bring sheers and work gloves if you have them, otherwise the tools will be provided by Public Works.

Sign-up to volunteer

Identifying Buckthorn

There are two main varieties of buckthorn found in North America: Common and Glossy. The two vary in in appearance, but are equally invasive and can grow up to 25 feet tall.

Common BuckthornGlossy Buckthorn
  • Have needle-like thorns at the end of the stems
  • Terminal buds on thorn look like a hoof 
  • Orange sap
  • Flowers have 4 petals
  • Stays green late into fall
  • Rounded/oval leaves
  • Blue/black berries
  • Shiny grey to brown bark with light speckles
  • Does not have thorns
  • Orange sap
  • Flowers have 5 petals
  • Stays green late into fall
  • Leaves are shiny and are rounded/oval
  • Red and blue/black berries
  • Brown bark with light speckles

If you think you have buckthorn, the Minnesota DNR provides a more detailed buckthorn identification guide.

Buckthorn leaves up close
Buckthorn trees

Removing Buckthorn

The best method for removing buckthorn depends on the size of the plants and how many you wish to remove.

Option 1

For very small plants, hand-pulling or using an uprooting tool can be an effective solution. This works best on plants that are less than 3/8 of an inch in diameter. When using this method, it is important to uproot the plant. 

Option 2

When dealing with an infestation of buckthorn greater than two inches in diameter, the best method is to cut the buckthorn at ground level and chemically treat the stump. Treat the stump within two hours of cutting with glyphosate (Roundup) or triclopyr (Garlon 3A or Garlon 4). It is important to treat the stump because buckthorn will continue to grow from the same root system.

After Removal

It is recommended to restore the ground’s seed bank after removing buckthorn. This can be done by planting a variety of native seeds over the newly exposed dirt. Buckthorn seeds can lay dormant in the ground for up to 10 years, so it is important to make sure that those seeds have competition for resources.

Some recommended native plants include High-bush cranberry, Nannyberry, Chockecherry, Grey dogwood, Pagoda dogwood, American hazelnut, American hornbeam, Black chokeberry and Juneberry.

For more in-depth information on how to properly remove buckthorn, including specific chemicals that are effective and their rate of application, visit the Minnesota DNR’s buckthorn management page.