Shrub to 3 m tall Leaves: opposite to subopposite, stalked (5 - 12 mm), shiny green above, yellowish green beneath, 6 - 12 cm long, narrow elliptic and usually widest at or below the middle with a broad wedge-shaped base and pointed tip, finely toothed, with five to eight pairs of yellowish veins that are sometimes hairy when young. Flowers: yellowish green, borne in clusters in leaf axils, tiny. Fruit: fleshy with center seeds (drupe), borne in clusters in leaf axils, black, 6 - 7 mm wide, usually with two furrowed seeds. Twigs: smooth, often with a sharp spine between end buds.
Similar species: Rhamnus cathartica, Rhamnus davurica, Rhamnus japonica, and Rhamnus utilis have opposite to subopposite leaf arrangements and often have spines at the tips of the stems. Rhamnus cathartica grows to 7.5 m tall. Its leaves are up to six times longer than the leaf stalks, are elliptic to inversely egg-shaped or nearly circular, and have two to four lateral vein pairs. Rhamnus davurica reaches 10 m tall. Its leaves are up to six times longer than the leaf stalks, are narrow oblong to elliptic, and have four to five lateral vein pairs. Rhamnus japonica grows to 3 m tall. Its leaves are more than six times longer than the leaf stalks, are inversely egg-shaped, and have three to five lateral vein pairs.
Flowering: May to June
Habitat and ecology: Introduced from Asia, this species does not often escape cultivation and is found in degraded woodlands and meadows. It is common along the edges of woods at The Morton Arboretum in DuPage County.
Occurence in the Chicago region: non-native
Notes: The Illinois Exotic Weed Act states that this species cannot be purchased, sold, distributed, or planted in Illinois without a permit issued by the Department of Natural Resources.
Etymology: Rhamnus is the ancient Greek name for buckthorn. Utilis means useful.