Using plants to control buckthorn

black eyed susan flower, buckthorn branch with leaves, and Canada wild rye seedhead


What's the problem with buckthorn?

Common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) is one of Minnesota's most notorious invasive plant species. Originally introduced in the 1800's as an ornamental plant for hedge rows, buckthorn has now invaded forests throughout the state and can be found in almost every county. Buckthorn devastates native ecosystems as it shades out native plant species and reduces habitat quality for wildlife. Minnesotans are working hard to remove buckthorn, but keeping buckthorn out for good is an ongoing challenge. After its initial removal, buckthorn quickly returns through resprouting from cut stumps and from seeds in the soil.

What do we know?

The Cover It Up! research project investigates if re-establishing native plants can control buckthorn following removal efforts.  Through a combination of field experiments, we have been able to determine the limits of buckthorn shade tolerance and identify key levels of shading that result in native species excluding buckthorn. In particular, we've shown woody species to be capable of producing this level of shading under some circumstances, but if, when, and where seed mixtures can result in these critical level of shading is still unclear. To better understand the potential value of seeding we need the help of Citizen Scientists to expand the study throughout the state. 

How can I help?

The Citizen Science project is open to anyone interested in conducting ecological research and in contributing to more sustainable buckthorn control. Participants can be landowners with buckthorn on their property, public or private land managers, non-profit groups, schools, community or friend groups, faith groups and others.

The project is expected to run through summer 2022 and will focus on forested and woodland areas throughout the state where buckthorn is currently present. Prior to spring 2020, participants will be asked to remove buckthorn from an area ~ 30 x 40 ft. Participants will then establish six 5x5 ft plots and replant with native seed mixes containing a variety of grasses, sedges, wildflowers, shrubs and trees. Each summer between 2020-2022, participants will report information about their plots back to the program. Training and materials needed for the experiment will be provided at no cost to participants by the University of Minnesota. Follow the link to learn more about the Project Timeline & Activities.

Funding provided by the Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants & Pests Center (MITPPC) through the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.