Can You Tell Native From Invasive Brush?

Cutting invasive brush, like buckthorn, is great winter work — no heat, humidity, bugs, or other vegetation to get in your way.

Great, except for one thing. Without their leaves, different species of shrubs all tend to look alike.

However, there is a way to distinguish shrubs in winter: By examining their buds, leaf scars, and bark. These features are unique to each species and the key to wintertime plant identification.

Take our quiz: In the two photos below, which twig belong to the invasive brush species, buckthorn, and which belongs to wild black cherry, a native plant?

Twigs of invasive brush buckthorn and native plant cherry

A. Buckthorn. As buckthorn’s name implies, each of its twigs are tipped by a thorn. Another way to identify this plant in winter is to scratch the thin bark of the twigs. You’ll see a yellow-orange inner bark underneath.

B. Wild black cherry. First off, there are no thorns on cherry. Also, the buds are two-toned in color: greenish and reddish-brown.

This article originally published in December 2013.