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The story behind buckthorn

By Karen Nordstrom, former City Councilmember

Ever wonder why Bloomington has such lush woods? One reason is the invasive plant, buckthorn. It has bright green shiny leaves and silvery gray bark. It was purposely planted by landscapers until it was discovered how invasive it was. Then, it was put on the “do not plant” list here in the city along with a few other trees and bushes.

Buckthorn was brought over from Europe years ago along with creeping Charlie and other favorites of the early settlers. They wanted plants that reminded them of their homelands.

I learned about buckthorn roughly 20 years ago when a neighbor noticed that we had a plethora of it in our woodsy, steep yard. I removed it and continue to monitor our yard for it. I have even volunteered over the years to help with the “buckthorn bust” in the fall. This is a worthy effort to rid a park of the dastardly weed. 

How it spreads

There are two versions of the buckthorn:  male and female.

The female plant has the berries that the birds eat. Once eaten, the birds excrete them, starting more plants. It also spreads by the root system. If roots are not treated by a weed killer after cutting, they will come back. They are extremely hardy!  

How to remove it

Check with your local garden center or hardware store for recommendations on effective weed killers to use on buckthorn. Autumn is the time of year that buckthorn stands out as it remains green long after other bushes turn or lose their leaves. 

Some years ago, a few neighbors gathered to help clear out as much as we could from an elderly neighbor’s yard. Most of her front yard was buckthorn. It is the observant neighbor who takes care of their buckthorn so it doesn’t spread to neighboring yards. The smaller plants are easily pulled out by hand. The City’s Public Works department provides tools for the larger plants and will loan them out for a certain number of days. Call 952-563-8760 for more information.