Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 780 Rhamnus caroliniana

Common Names: Carolina buckthorn, Indian cherry Family: Rhamnaceae (buckthorn Family)
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indian cherries
These ripening red Indian cherries will turn black when mature.


Carolina buckthorn is a dainty little tree that rarely exceeds 30 ft (9 m) in height. Most specimens are only 10-15 ft (3-4.5 m) tall. The young twigs are reddish pubescent, becoming gray and smooth as they age. The branches are slender and spreading. The deciduous leaves are alternate and elliptic, 2-6 in (5-15 cm) long and 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) wide. The leaves are very distinctive: They are bright and shiny, and the 8-10 pairs of prominent leaf veins are conspicuously parallel until they reach the leaf margin, where they curve and follow the margin for a short distance. The flowers are tiny and rather inconspicuous, but the fruits are showy. They are round berry-like drupes about a 0.3 in (1 cm) diameter that start out red and then turn black as they ripen. The ripe fruits are juicy and sweet. The leaves turn yellow in fall.


Carolina buckthorn, Rhamnus caroliniana, occurs from New York to Nebraska and south to NE Mexico and central Florida. This is not a common tree. Its distribution is scattered and sporadic. Carolina buckthorn usually occurs in calcareous, rocky woodlands, where it grows in the understory of various oaks, hickories and other hardwoods.


Apply lime if soil is acidic. Light: Partial shade to full sun. Moisture: Moderate water. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. Propagation: By seed, which should be sown in fall and allowed to overwinter outdoors. Buckthorn also can be propagated from cuttings.
Caroline buckthorn flowers
The Carolina buckthorn's flowers appear in spring and, unlike the berries, are easy to miss.


Carolina buckthorn is rarely found in cultivation and that is a pity. It's a pretty little tree, with its lustrous bright green leaves, turning yellow in fall, and clusters of showy red and black berries. If you can find it in a native plant nursery, Carolina buckthorn will make a fine small specimen tree in a woodland garden or in a mixed shrub border. Let Carolina buckthorn naturalize in a native plant garden. It will be happy in the semi-shaded understory of larger trees.


Carolina buckthorn is unusual among the buckthorns in that it does not have thorns. Many kinds of song birds eat the berries of Carolina buckthorn.

Steve Christman 1/10/00

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Rhamnus species profiled on Floridata:

Rhamnus caroliniana

( Carolina buckthorn, Indian cherry )

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