Rhamnus, - from the Celtic ram, signifying branching. A genus of shrubby plants, of no great interest, except for their medicinal qualities, or for the uses of their berries for dyes or paints, or the wood of some species for carving into images.
R. cathartica, - the Common Buckthorn, - is a well-known shrub, or small tree, " the fruit of which was formerly employed, in medicine, as a purgative, but it is too violent and drastic to be safely used, and is now chiefly confined to veterinary practice, to which it is well adapted. The saffron-colored juice of the unripe berries, called French berries by dyers, is used as paint and a dye. Sap-green is made of the inspissated juice of the ripe berries, with alum and gum Arabic. If gathered very late, they yield a purple, instead of a green, color. The bark furnishes a beautiful yellow dye, or, dried, it colors brown. The wood of the roots is yellowish-brown, with a satin lustre, and very compact, and may be employed by the turner." - (Emerson.)
The great value of the Buckthorn, with us, is for hedges. It is perfectly hardy, grows rapidly, and bears pruning better than any other shrub with which we are acquainted. Another important item in its value is, that it is never attacked by insects of any description. It is, also, very tough, and flourishes in any soil. No animal, except sheep or goats, will feed upon it. We consider it, therefore, the only plant for general use for the formation of hedges. "It puts forth its leaves early in the spring, and retains them late in the fall, and its bunches of rich berries are very showy in autumn."
The plants are easily raised from seed, which may be planted either in the fall or very early in the spring. When planted in autumn, it may be done as soon as the berries mature.
The berries should be first mashed and washed, so that they may be planted more evenly. The seed may be sown in drills eighteen inches apart, or in beds. The fall-sown seed will vegetate very early in the spring, while those sown in the spring will not appear under four or five weeks from the time of planting. The second year, the plants may be transferred to the nursery, and should be headed down as soon as they begin to grow. This causes them to thicken at the bottom; a very important point to be remembered, for unless they are first grown with branches from the bottom, no after cultivation can remedy the neglect.
The best hedges we have seen were those where the plants were placed in a single line, six inches distant from each other.