Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Rhamnaceae or Buckthorn Family

The Rhamnaceae or Buckthorn family is a large family of plants cosmopolitan in distribution with the greatest diversity in the tropics and sub-tropics and warm temperate regions such as the southwestern United States.

Species are woody, mainly erect shrubs, trees, some perennial herbs, others twining and/or climbing. Plants may be heavily armed from modified stipules, or unarmed.

Common family characteristics include: Leaves: simple, usually alternate, sub-opposite or opposite, solitary or fascicled, stipules usually present, deciduous or evergreen, petioles often present, bud scales present of absent, leaf blades pinnately veined or 1 to 5 ribbed from base; inflorescence: in North America terminal or axillary cymose clusters or in short shoots, some in panicles or umbels; Flowers: perfect or imperfect, often small and greenish, mostly bisexual or less often monecious, actinomorphic, radially symmetrical, sepals alternate, 4 , 5, petals 0, 4, 5, mostly small and inconspicuous, clawed, distinct, rarely absent, 5 stamens opposite of the petals, usually a single compound pistil; Fruit: capsule or drupes with 1 to 3 stones, 1 or 2 seeded.

Plants of Economic Importance include: The Jujube Tree, Ziziphus jujuba is a large shade tree from China that also bears edible fruit. Ceanothus is an important genus, endemic to North America with beautiful native and ornamental species as well.

The largest genera worldwide include; Phylica, Rhamnus, Ceanothus, Gouania, Cryptandra, Ziziphus and Berchemia.

In North America there are 21 genera with 206 accepted taxa overall. World-wide The Plant List includes 839 accepted species with 53 plant genera.

The largest genera in North America include; Ceanothus, Rhamnus, Colubrina, Ziziphus, Condalia and Frangula.

Arizona Rhamnaceae are all shrubs or small trees, simple leaves, small flowers, perfect or unisexual, with or without petals. Many species within Rhamnaceae have value as winter browse for deer.

  • Ceanothus fendleri, Fendler's Ceanothus
  • Ceanothus greggii, Desert Ceanothus
  • Ceanothus integerrimus, Ceanothus Deerbrush
  • Colubrina californica, Las Animas Nakedwood
  • Condalia warnockii, Mexican Crucillo
  • Frangula californica, California Buckthorn
  • Rhamnus crocea, Redberry Buckthorn
  • Rhamnus ilicifolia, Holly-leaf Buckthorn
  • Ziziphus obtusifolia, Lotebush
  • Date Family Profile Completed: 06/22/2016, updated 05/24/2017
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database. [and all genera cited above - (accessed 05/24/2017).
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 05/24/2017)
    Kyle Christie, Michael Currie, Laura Smith Davis, Mar-Elise Hill, Suzanne Neal, and Tina Ayers; Vascular Plants of Arizona: Rhamnaceae; accessed on-line 22 June 2016] all general listed above
    John O. Sawyer, Jr. 2016. Rhamnaceae, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on June 22, 2016.
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Rhamnaceae', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 June 2016, 20:44 UTC, [accessed 22 June 2016]
    University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Botany Department website; [accessed 22 June 2016]
    Encyclopædia Britannica, [accessed 22 June 2016]
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Jujube', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 16 May 2016, 15:24 UTC, [accessed 23 June 2016]
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Ceanothus', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 June 2016, 02:05 UTC, [accessed 23 June 2016]
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Rhamnus (genus)', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 May 2016, 10:04 UTC,
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Ranunculaceae', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 June 2016, 14:47 UTC, [accessed 19 June 2016]