Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Buckthorn Removal

This plant, Common Buckthorn, is everywhere.  It leafs out early and keeps its leaves well into the fall.  It grows anywhere, and it grows fast.  It can grow 6 feet in one year!  Buckthorn was brought to the United States from Europe and was a popular hedge plant for decades in the 1800's.  With all this going for it, what's wrong with buckthorn?
Buckthorn, along with several other plants, is classified as an Exotic Weed in Illinois and many other states and is regulated by law.  It is also considered an invasive plant.  Several species of buckthorn have invaded natural ecosystems throughout the country, smothering out native shrubs, trees, and wildflowers.  (Full disclosure:  My back yard is full of buckthorn and a few 100-year-old White Oaks.  It's going to take me a while to take out the buckthorn and replace it with natives.)

There are many ecological and practical reasons forest preserve districts, park districts, municipalities, and property managers devote a lot of time to removing buckthorn.  The following is from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources:
The Illinois Exotic Weed Act prohibits the purchase, sale, offer to sell, distribution or planting of Japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose, purple loosestrife, kudzu and six species of buckthorn (common buckthorn, glossy buckthorn, saw-toothed buckthorn, dahurian buckthorn, Japanese buckthorn and Chinese buckthorn).
"These prohibited plants present a real danger to everything from the beauty of a backyard garden to the native flora of our state," said Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Joel Brunsvold. "Exotics like buckthorn, kudzu and purple loosestrife spread rapidly, degrade natural communities, and can cause serious harm to threatened and endangered plants and wildlife." (Link)
Here are some of the negative ecological effects of buckthorn:
• Out competes our native plants for nutrients, light, and moisture.
• Degrades wildlife habitat.
• Threatens the future of forests, wetlands, prairies, and other natural habitats.
• Contributes to erosion by shading out other plants that grow on the forest floor.
• Serves as host to other pests, such as crown rust fungus and soybean aphid.
• Forms an impenetrable layer of vegetation.
• Creates messy fruits that stain sidewalks and driveways.
• Lacks ‘natural controls’ like insects or disease that would curb its growth.  (MN DNR)
As if these ecological reasons aren't enough, there is another big reason property managers and government bodies do not like buckthorn: It is uncontrollable.  It does not behave well in a landscape.  It grows in fencelines and destroys infrastructure.  It seeds everywhere and spreads.  It is simply impossible to manage.  It's also, besides for being green, an ugly plant.

At Sugar Creek Golf Course, we have our share of this invasive weed.  Last year, as part of our removal program, the area behind the range tees was cleared and replanted with native shrubs and trees.  This year, we cleared many yards of fenceline that had been overgrown with buckthorn.  We are currently chipping up our pile of thorny limbs.  You can see the pile below:

Next time you golf at Sugar Creek, you may notice the removal of this invasive weed along the fenceline on the 1st hole.  Once the stumps are dead, these areas can be replanted with native shrubs or left as they are.  Either way, they will be more manageable in the future.


  1. Just discovered your blog... excellent!
    Nancy (a former Sugar Creek staffer, now facility manager for Green Meadows Golf Club).

  2. Thanks for checking it out, Nancy!


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