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Alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus)

Diputación de Málaga
Frangula alnus fruto

Alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus)

Flowers Fruits
Plant Life > Trees, Bushes and Herbaceous Plants


It is a deciduous leafy bush, very branched which can reach a small tree height (up to 15 m high) in good conditions.  Its bark is smooth and reddish when it is young and turns greyish with age. If the bark is scratched or a branch is torn, it smells bad, which is why in some areas it is known as the ‘stinking bush’. The leaves are simple with an alternating setting, of an oval shape, shiny on the beam and matt on the  underside ( 2 to14 cm long, 1 to 6 cm wide).  Its leaves resemble those of the beech, but they lack the furs that the latter has on the edge. The flowers are greenish and not very showy, and the  fruits are green or reddish and turn black when ripe.


It is a disperse growing species, which scarcely forms stands. It is part of the undergrowth of cork oaks or gall oak forests, always in humid and shady places. It is associated to water courses or  blades indifferent to the type of substrate, but with a certain preference for non calcareous soils and near by the phreatic level. It grows from sea level to 1,200 meters above sea level. 


It is a monoic species with hermaphrodite flowers (flowers with both sexes on a single plant) which can appear alone or in armpit fascicles formed by seven flowers.  Each flower has five whitish petals, shorter than the sepals. The pollination stage is aided by insects (entomophil). The fruit is a rounded drupe (fleshy fruit with a single pit), like a cherry (with a diameter or 1 cm) dispersed by some animal groups (zoochory).


In the Malaga province, it is an abundant species in the western part coinciding with the wettest areas and the acidic soils of the Cortes mountains and the Genal valley.   In the Great Path (Gran Senda), we can observe it on stages 25 to 28. 


It is a toxic plant able to cause serious stomach and intestinal problems if its fruits are eaten. It has been used as a dye species, its fruits to stain green and its bark to dye red.  The baetica sub-species is categorized as a threatened species in Andalusia.


It can be confused with the laurustinus which has very similar leaves and fruits. The difference is that is the laurustinus makes flowers and fruits with an apical umbels shape whereas the alder buckthorn does not.


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