Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cascara Buckthorn: An Oregon Native Tree

One of the trees I’ve used in my native landscaping is the Cascara tree, or Cascara Buckthorn (Rhamnus purshiana).  Native along North America’s west coast from southern BC to central California, the Cascara’s dried bark was used by Native and immigrant Americans for over a century as a laxative.  According to Wikipedia, “it was the principal ingredient in many commercial, over-the-counter laxatives in North American pharmacies until 9 May 2002.” 
As interesting as that is, the only home remedies I hope to get from my four Cascara trees are a little shade and some natural habitat.
Three of my trees I purchased through Friends of Trees, and they’re placed along the street in the front parking strip.  The fourth is in the yard near the SW corner of the house.  They were all a decent size when we planted them, so I’m hoping it won’t be too long before they start providing some shade to the front of our west-facing house.  Cascaras are not large trees, so they will never shade the whole house.  I’m just hoping for some late afternoon screening when the sun is lower in the sky.
When I’m out and about, I always watch for plants that I have in my yard, to see if I can spot them “in the wild”.  The only time I’ve seen a Cascara in its natural setting was over at the coast, in a wooded area near the beach.
3496611674_326dc3b215_bCascara leaves are a nice, dark green and fairly thick, too.  The tiny spring flowers seem to attract lots of insect pollinators.  Small berries start out red and turn black as they ripen.  Cascara is one of the plants recommended by Audubon to provide food for Western Bluebirds, and like the berries of the Pacific Madrone, I’m told they’re a favorite of Cedar Waxwings and other berry-eating birds.
The leaves turn a pretty bronze color in the fall.  Not as spectacular as some of the yellows and reds we see, but still nice.  There’s a good series of pictures (provided by Oregon State University), showing the habit of the trees in various seasons, starting here.  Use the “next” link at the top right to move through the pictures.
Even with a small yard, if you just provide a little bit of habitat – and you look close enough – you can attract some native wildlife…


  1. I've seen this tree while browsing my favorite native plant nurseries but haven't planted one yet. I'd love to have something to attract Cedar Waxwings. Thanks for the info.

  2. You're welcome, Shelly! I love my Cascaras. I haven't seen any Cedar Waxwings yet, but my location may be too urban. I have seen lots of honey bees. They seem to love the tiny flowers blooming right now. One note - the trees that I have along the street were getting a little sunburned on the lower, SW side of their trunks. I've planted some companion plants at their base now, to provide a little shade for the trunks. These trees are typically an understory tree where they naturally occur, so I think the sun bouncing off the pavement is a little much for them. But they seem to be doing well other than that, so hopefully they will continue to thrive. The one in my yard, away from the street but still in full sun, is doing great.

  3. Thank-you for the info. I pass these trees all over the place up in the hills around our home. I live ten miles inland from Newport , Oregon. I like using native plants around our home and plan to use some along the road.

    1. You're very welcome, Linda. Natives are the way to go for so many reasons. Thanks for dropping by!


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