Rhamnaceae: Buckthorn Family — Coffeeberry & Redberry

The Buckthorn family is made up of large, woody shrubs with small flowers.  Plants on this page have small, inconspicuous flowers, leading to more noticeable fruits.

California Coffeeberry – Frangula californica subsp. californica

Blooms:

May–July

Plant Height:

< 5 m

Flower Size:

Small cluster

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Coastal sage-scrub, chaparral & woodland

Notes:

This is a large shrub, with clusters of inconspicuous greenish-white flowers.  Fruits are red berries, maturing to black.  The berries have strong, potentially dangerous laxative properties.  The leaf margins are entire or minutely serrated, smooth above and smooth (or with fine, short hairs) below.  Common in the Outer Coast Ranges.  Hairy Coffeeberry (subsp. tomentalla, not pictured) is similar, but distinguished by its gray, tomentose twigs and leaves which are consistently velvety or silvery below.

Spiny Redberry – Rhamnus crocea

Blooms:

Jan–Apr

Plant Height:

< 2 m

Flower Size:

Small cluster

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Coastal sage-scrub, chaparral & woodland

Notes:

This is a medium-sized shrub which produces many clusters of  small, creamy-green flowers.  They mature into small (6 mm), shiny red berries.  The branches are rigid, sometimes with thorny tips, giving the plant its common name.  Leaves are small (10–15 mm), with rounded tips.

Hollyleaf Redberry – Rhamnus ilicifolia

Blooms:

Mar–June

Plant Height:

< 4 m

Flower Size:

Small cluster

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Chaparral, montane woodland

Notes:

Somewhat similar to Spiny Redberry (Rhamnus crocea, see above), but with stiff (not spiny), ascending branches.  Leaves are longer-petioled (2–10 vs 1–4 mm), larger (20–40 vs 10–15 m), and with irregularly toothed rather than smooth margins.