Biological control of buckthorn using fungi

buckthorn stem with inner bark exposed to show healthy tissue and diseased tissue

Inner bark of buckthorn showing healthy tissue (orange) and tissue diseased by fungi (brown/gray). Credit: Domini Brown



Glossy and common buckthorn (Frangula alnus and Rhamnus cathartica, respectively) are exotic invasive shrubs that cause serious problems in Minnesota. Buckthorn aggressively spreads in forests and fields, displaces native vegetation, degrades habitat, and threatens normal ecosystem functioning. Buckthorn is also a host for other undesirable species that require management like soybean aphid and oat crown rust.

As a non-native species, buckthorn has lacked aggressive insect and disease pests in the US that can kill it. However, recent observations indicate that buckthorn is dying in some locations of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Preliminary studies have found many different fungi causing canker rot, wilt, and root rot in buckthorn, even preventing new growth from stumps. However, none have yet been evaluated as a potential biocontrol agent.

This research team will identify and study the effects of native fungi found on buckthorn for their potential use as a biological control against buckthorn.

Research questions

  • What fungi are effective at colonizing and killing buckthorn?
  • What fungi have the ability to prevent buckthorn stumps from resprouting?
  • What effects do the identified fungi have on other non-target vegetation?
  • What are the best application methods for using fungi as a biological control agent in the field?

Practical implications

A new, natural method of control is likely to be developed and it could be immediately implemented using pre-existing equipment. It would reduce the negative effects of chemical herbicide use, may provide longer lasting effects than other control methods, and be safer to use in watershed and sensitive areas than current herbicides.

Report fungi on buckthorn

If you observe fungi on common buckthorn stems or trunks in Minnesota, you can submit your observations to the research team.

News and media


This project began in January 2023 and is in progress for the next 3 years. Please check back at a later time for updates.

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Research team

Robert Blanchette | principal investigator

Ryan Franke | PhD student

Nick Rajtar | PhD student


Lab or other website


Collaborating organizations

MN Department of Natural Resources

Minnesota Department of Agriculture

West Virginia State University

Friends of the Mississippi River

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Flint Hills Resources