Monday, November 2, 2009

Carolina Buckthorn

Autumn is an ideal time to locate and monitor certain trees and shrubs. Each species tends to make the transition from summer to winter in a unique fashion that makes them easily identifiable at a certain point. The leaves of the Carolina Buckthorn, Rhamnus caroliniana, maintain their waxy shine and begin to yellow late in the season. This is a southern shrub that has its northern limit in extreme southern Ohio.

A deer trail runs just to the left of this medium sized Buckthorn and a buck deer has found the trunk to be a nice place to rub. Carolina Buckthorns suffer a lot of hardships in this area. Extreme cold temperatures during the winter can kill the top growth on these shrubs. This little clump contains some big specimens compared to the others found at Blue Jay Barrens.

This group is growing beneath a couple of fairly large Black Walnut trees. Many shrubs would not be able to grow in this location because of the juglones produced by the walnut. Maybe the Carolina Buckthorn is a suitable companion plant to the walnut and enjoys less competition from other shrubs in this location.

Carolina Buckthorn leaves always look as though they’ve been waxed and polished. It would make a wonderful landscape plant if it weren’t so susceptible to winter-kill.

One of the key characteristics of this shrub is the naked bud. The tiny beginnings of next year’s leaves are exposed for all to see, instead of being covered by bud scales. The buds are a great help to identifying Carolina Buckthorn in the winter. Years ago I was walking near the creek when I came across a huge patch of buckthorn. I was getting ready to record this exciting find on my map, when I took a closer look at a twig and discovered I was looking at a cluster of little Pawpaws. About that time a Blue Jay started chattering in the tree above me and I’m sure it was laughing at my blunder. Pawpaws have terminal buds very similar to those of Carolina Buckthorn and I had made the classic mistake of making a rapid identification based on one quickly glimpsed character.

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