Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Buckthorn Bumelia - Sideroxylon lycioides   L.
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Section 6 » Order Ebenales » Family Sapotaceae
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DistributionA bimodal range in the state. Found mainly close to the coast, within about 30 miles of the Atlantic, inland mainly to Beaufort and Bladen counties. Also found in the southern Piedmont from Richmond County north to Rowan and Alexander counties. Absent from nearly all of the inner two-thirds of the Coastal Plain, the Sandhills, northern Piedmont, and all of the Mountains.

This Southern species occurs north to DE, and southern IL, south to central FL and eastern TX.
AbundanceRare to locally uncommon in both the lower Coastal Plain and the southern Piedmont, probably most numerous close to the coast in maritime forests and thickets. Very rare elsewhere. This is an NC Watch List species.
HabitatThis is a strict “mafic” species, being limited to areas of high pH soils. It is found over marl in maritime forests, Wet Marl Forests, and near marl-lined forested creeks and bluffs. Inland it is found over mafic rocks on rich forested slopes and bluffs, and also in Basic Oak-Hickory Forests.
PhenologyBlooms in June and July, and fruits in September and October.
IdentificationThis is a moderately large shrub to small tree, often to 10-15 feet tall. The leaves are tardily deciduous, often present into early winter – at least near the coast. The entire leaves are oblanceolate (wider above the middle), with tapering bases, reaching about 3 inches long; the tip can be rounded or somewhat pointed. Bumelias can be identified by leaves that are usually clustered on short spur shoots, as opposed to coming off the stems singly, the small thorns along the stems near the spur shoots, and a milky sap when the twigs are broken. The flowers are quite small and white, in clusters along the branches; the fruits are blue-black drupes about 1/3-inch long. The somewhat similar Tough Bumelia (S. tenax) is known in NC mainly from Bald Head Island now, and it has smaller leaves that are rusty below. Most biologists are not familiar with these two species, owing to their rarity. Upon seeing this species for the first time, it may remind you of Possumhaw Holly (Ilex decidua) or an azalea (Rhododendron spp.); however, the small thorns should be visible on the stems, and perhaps the clusters of buds, flowers, or fruits along older stems can be seen, to rule out these other species. If in doubt, break a twig and look for milky sap.
Taxonomic CommentsAll of the handful of Southeastern species in this genus were formerly placed in the genus Bumelia – i.e., Bumelia lycioides for this species.

Other Common Name(s)Buckthorn Bully, Carolina Buckthorn (used mainly for Frangula caroliniana)
State RankS2S3
Global RankG5
State StatusW1
US Status
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