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BUCKTHORN

Frangula spp. and Rhamnus spp.
(& see text below for some others)

Frangula spp. and Rhamnus spp. of the family Rhamnaceae, the buckthorn family. The genera names Rhamnus and Frangula are a bit of a mess, so I've broken out some discussion of them here:


RHAMNUS AND FRANGULA NAMES



References show almost 30 Rhamnus and Frangula species that have the common name buckthorn, with such characterization words as alpine, California, common, European, glossy, island, etc. (see below). Because of this plethora of species, the areas of growth are quite diverse, with some species growing in various parts of the USA, some in Europe, some in Africa, and some in Asia. European buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) is considered an invasive species in parts of the USA.

The genus Sideroxylon has a few species that have buckthorn as all or part of one or more of their common names but these are significantly different than the Rhamnus species and are not included on this page. Sideroxylon lanuginosum is shown on this site as chittamwood. There are a couple of genus Hippophae species that have buckthorn as all or part of one or more of their common names but they are very small bushes and I'm doubtful that even pen blanks are made from them so they are not included on this page. SO ... although there are several genera that have species that use the name buckthorn, this page is intended to be only for those in the genera Frangula and Rhamnus. There may be other woods here by mistake because they use the common name buckthorn when they should more reasonably use one of their other common names but to the extent I can, I have not included any such.

Because of shared common names and similarity of both plant size and wood appearance, this wood is sometimes confused with chittamwood and because of a similarity just in plant size and wood appearance, it can also be confused with smoketree. The three are actually quite easy to tell apart and I'll soon add an illustrated note on how to do so.

The following is a list of all the Frangula and Rhamnus species that I'm aware of that have the word "buckthorn" as all or part of one or more of their common names. I have used The Plant List as the authority on which to base my "facts" about what botanical names are accepted names and what names are synonyms. This information is summarized in the table linked to in the box at the top to the page (and it was used in the creation of the following list)





AN ISSUE WITH "BUCKTHORN" WOOD IDENTIFICATION


The species from the two different genera that are all sold as buckthorn, have significantly different characteristics. Here are two 1/4" square end grain cross sections, shown here at 12X, showing the two types of anatomical features in "buckthorn". The first has a clearly semi ring porous pattern of numerous small but distinct pores with no hint of any dendritic groups. This is indicative of the Frangula species. The Rhamnus species (shown in the 2nd pic) has sparser pores and they are in dendritic groups. My thanks to Eric Meier for helping me sort this out.

NOTE: My friend Mark Peet, who is very knowledgable about wood informs me that the Frangula and Rhamnus species are sorted out by bontanists based on TREE characteristics, not wood anatomy, and that explains how it shook out the way it did. SO ... "buckthorn" not only does in fact encompass both genera (Frangula and Rhamnus) but it consequently also does include the wood anatomy differences as I noted above.



my samples:


sample plank listed as cascara / Rhamnus purshiana (which is a synonym for Frangula purshiana)


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above. I note that the end grain on this piece is radically different that on the other pieces above, BUT ... so is the Wood Book pic (below) of this species, so I'm content that it is indeed what it says it is.


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of cascara buckthorn / Rhamnus purshiana --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. Note that Rhamnus purshiana is a synonym for Frangula purshiana.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of cascara buckthorn / Rhamnus purshiana --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. Note that Rhamnus purshiana is a synonym for Frangula purshiana.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of California buckthorn / Frangula californica --- HUGE enlargements are present.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above. I note that this end grain is radically different from the Rhamus species


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of California buckthorn / Frangula californica --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of European buckthorn / Rhamnus cathartica --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. As can be seen in the enlargements the labeled side is raw but the 2nd side has been sanded to 240 grit.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of European buckthorn / Rhamnus cathartica --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of buckthorn / Rhamnus cathartica --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by Mark Peet whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of glossy buckthorn / Rhamnus frangula --- HUGE enlargements are present. The sample is laminated (this species doesn't get very big) and the difference in color between the two sides is heartwood vs sapwood. Note that Rhamnus frangula is a synonym for Frangula alnus.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of glossy buckthorn / Frangula alnus --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by Mark Peet whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of glossy buckthorn / Frangula alnus --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by Mark Peet whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of each of a couple of little cutoffs of buckthorn contributed to the site by Cliff Wiener whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. HUGE enlargements are present.



a 5" diameter log contributed to the site by Lyle Solem, whom I thank. I have slabbed it and there are more pics below. Buckthorn is mostly of interest to carvers and turners, since it is not generally produced as lumber because of the small size of the tree.

Lyle tells me that the crack in this log is typical --- it's a difficult wood to dry well.

The ends are rough cut with a bandsaw and the log has been drying for about a year.


a log and both ends; I specify it as Rhamnus spp. based on the end grain characteristics; see the discussion at the top of the page.


plank and end grain --- this piece cut from the log above


end grain closeup and END GRAIN UPDATE (upside down) of the piece directly above


two more sets of small planks cut from the same log




A piece of buckthorn contributed to the site by Clint wiener of the Wood Barter forum. Thanks Clint. I let the piece dry in my attic for a year and then cut a sample plank from it, as seen below.


both sides of the sample half-log of buckthorn / Rhamnus spp. shown directly above --- HUGE enlargements are present. I specify it as Rhamnus spp. based on the end grain characteristics; see the discussion at the top of the page.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


The Wood Book pics


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
buckthorn (Rhamnus purshiana, also listed as bearberry, sacred-bark, shittim-wood, and wild cherry) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for all 3 views. Note that today, Rhamnus purshiana is considered just a synoynm for Frangula purshiana.


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
island buckthorn (Rhamnus insularis, also listed as island bearwood) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for all 3 views. Note that Rhamnus insularis is now considered an unresolved name, but since this sample has the dendritic groups, it is in the Rhamnus genus.


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
European buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica, also listed as waythorn and common buckthorn) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for all 3 views



web pics:


plank, raw and with a finish


end grain closeup


planks


plank listed as buckthorn / Rhamnus frangula


planks listed as European buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica


plank listed as Carolina buckthorn, Rhamnus carloliniana


log and box of cascara buckthorn / Rhamnus purshiana, pic provided by turner Lea Montaire whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. Rhamnus purshiana is a synonym for Frangula purshiana.


bowl


pen


spatula


spoons


handle


closeup of a buckthorn hollow form, nicely showing the end grain of a Rhamnus species