Buckthorn vs. Chokecherry: Key Differences Explained

Written by Nikita Ross
Published: October 25, 2022
© iStock.com/Elenakirey
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Buckthorns and chokecherries are often confused with one another. While the structure and leaves on these plants look similar, there are key differences in functionality. There are also notable differences in the flowers and fruit.

Buckthorns are invasive and harmful while chokecherries are a great shrub for landscaping and harvesting. Here’s how to tell the difference between the two so you know which to grow and which to remove from your property.

Buckthorn vs. Chokecherry: A Comparison

Buckthorns and chokecherries differ in origin, use, and flavor.


ClassificationRhamnus catharticaPrunus virginiana
Other NamesPurging buckthorn, European buckthorn, Common buckthornBitter berry, Virginia bird cherry, Bird berry
OriginEurope, Asia, AfricaNorth America
DescriptionSmall deciduous trees typically growing to 30 feet, though some grow to 50 feet. Dark green ovaline leaves grow up to six inches long and remain green year-round. Yellow-green small flowers grow in small clusters close to the stem. Berries are black and grow in clusters with several seeds inside.Small trees or suckering shrubs typically growing to 20 feet tall, though some grow up to 30 feet. Dark green ovaline leaves grow up to four inches long and turn red in the autumn. White flowers grow vertically in stalks (racemes) in the spring. Berries range from dark red to black with a large pit.
UsesTraditionally used for medicinal purposes. The elements of this plant have a purgative effect and shouldn’t be consumed.Traditionally foraged by Native Americans for food and medicinal purposes. Now a common feature in pies, pastries, and other baked goods.
Flavor ProfileTart with citrus tones. These berries are inedible and harmful to animals and humans.Astringent, bitter, and sour when raw. Tart and semi-sweet when cooked.
Growing TipsHardy plants grow in USDA zones 2-7. Thrives in loamy soil. Buckthorn is an invasive species in North America and shouldn’t be planted— experts advise immediate removal.Hardy plants grow in USDA zones 2-10. Grow in loamy, sandy soil with continuous moisture. This invasive plant will overtake nearby plants and isn’t suitable for a garden environment.  

What Are The Key Differences Between Buckthorn and Chokecherry?

Buckthorn and chokecherries are similar in appearance and often confused with one another. The key difference is in functionality. Buckthorn is an invasive species in North America with berries and bark that cause gastrointestinal distress when consumed. Chokecherries are a great wind block and privacy plant with edible berries.

Let’s explore the overarching differences between buckthorn and chokecherry plants in detail.

Buckthorn vs. Chokecherry: Classification

Buckthorns and chokecherries are both in the order Rosales which consists of flowering plants. Despite similarities in appearance, this is where the commonality ends. Buckthorns are in the Rhamnaceae family, also known as the buckthorn family. Chokecherries are in the Rosaceae family, also known as the rose family.

Buckthorn vs. Chokecherry: Origin

Common buckthorn
Buckthorns are invasive species in North America.


Buckthorns were originally introduced to North America as an ornamental plant in the 1800s. They have since become an invasive species in North America, particularly across Canada. Chokecherries are native to North America while buckthorns are native to Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Buckthorns are prone to harmful fungus growth and wintering soybean aphids, which harm local crops. The increasing populations of soybean aphids have attracted equally harmful multi-colored Asian lady beetles.

Buckthorn vs. Chokecherry: Description

closeup chokecherry fruit
Chokecherries have red tones.


Buckthorns and chokecherries are similar at a glance with notable differences upon inspection. The best way to tell these plants apart is to look at the flowers and berries. 

Buckthorn berries are entirely black whereas chokecherry berries have red tones. They have several seeds inside whereas chokecherries have a single pit. 

Buckthorn flowers are subtle and clustered close to the stem. These small, four-petal flowers are a yellow-green tone. Chokecherry flowers are noticeable and vivid, with five white petals and an orange-toned center. Chokecherries are a member of the rose family and their blooms are similar to wild roses.  

Buckthorn vs. Chokecherry: Uses

Buckthorns are not fit for human or animal consumption. The berries and bark are poisonous to animals and have a laxative effect on humans. While buckthorn has been traditionally used in herbal medicine, it’s not recommended for modern purposes. 

Chokecherries are a great hedge alternative for creating privacy and windbreaks. The berries can be harvested to make baked goods and jams. 

Buckthorn vs. Chokecherry: Growth Tips

chokecherry bushes
Chokecherries should be fertilized regularly.


Chokecherry seeds require germination through cold stratification. Harvest the berries during the fall to extract the pits. Rinse the fruit from the pit and place it in a sealed container with a moistened paper towel. Keep the pit in the refrigerator for up to three months before transferring it to loamy soil. 

Chokecherries can grow in pots or be transferred to the ground. This hardy plant doesn’t require special attention for the winter, but benefits from regular fertilization.

Buckthorns should not be grown. Experts advise removing them if found on your property. Unlike other deciduous trees, buckthorn doesn’t lose its leaves during the winter, making this season ideal for removal. If you live in North America and find a buckthorn grove, contact the local agricultural office to report it.

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closeup chokecherry fruit
Chokecherry trees reach up to 30 feet tall.
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About the Author

Nikita Ross is a professional ghostwriter with a background in marketing and fitness. An aspiring plant parent and avid coffee drinker, you can often find Nikita watching her Coffea Arabica plant for signs of a single coffee bean (no luck yet) or giving her 30 indoor plants a pep talk about surviving the impending Canadian winter.

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