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Products > Rhamnus californica
Rhamnus californica - Coffeeberry
Image of Rhamnus californica
[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Shrub
Family: Rhamnaceae (Buckthorns)
Origin: California (U.S.A.)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Greenish White
Bloomtime: Spring
Synonyms: [Frangula californica]
Height: 6-8 feet
Width: 6-8 feet
Exposure: Sun or Shade
Summer Dry: Yes
Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: < 0 F
May be Poisonous  (More Info): Yes
Rhamnus californica (Coffeeberry) - A long lived California native evergreen shrub that grows 6-12 feet tall and as wide with reddish brown young stems that age to brown. The foliage, 2-4 inches long, smooth and leathery, is light green when young, maturing to dark green - often with red tips. The edges curl under during dry summers to conserve moisture. The small, inconspicuous greenish-yellow flowers appear in May to July and produce showy berries that are first green then red and finally black when ripe. A hardy shrub that can grow in most soils, but prefers sandy well-drained soil. Grows in full sun or light shade. Drought tolerant once established. Cold hardy to 5 F and possibly a bit colder. This plant is native from the Southwestern Oregon south along the coast and Coast Ranges to northern Baja California and east into southern Nevada, Arizona and western New Mexico where it is a component of chaparral, woodland, and forest communities. We also grow the cultivars 'Eve Case', 'Leatherleaf'. and 'Mound San Bruno'. The name for the genus Rhamnus derives from the ancient Greek 'rabdos', meaning a "stick" in reference to the presence a woody spine on the end of each twig for certain species. The common name Coffeeberry comes from the plant looking a bit like coffee, both its foliage the red berries that age to black and also because the roasted seeds make a flavorful caffeine-free coffee substitute. It is also called California buckthorn. Recent nomenclatural changes have given rise to a name change for this plant to Frangula californica - we continued to list it as Rhamnus californica until this name has wider recognition. The genus name Frangula comes from the Latin 'frangere' meaning "to break" in reference to its brittle wood. We often get inquiries about whether the berries of Rhamnus californica (or Frangula californica as it is now called) are poisonous. We have grown the species and several cultivars for many years and did not list it as poisonous. It is not listed in Thomas Fuller and Elizabeth McClintock in Poisonous Plants in California, the book we typically rely on for such information, but is does make it onto various poisonous plant lists such as the one included in California Native Plants for the Garden by Carol Bornstein, Dave Fross and Bart O'Brien and on Dr. Ann King Filmer's list on the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences website Safe and Poisonous Garden Plants. While there is some indication that aboriginal Californians may have used the berries as a food source and some suggest the fruit can be used to make a coffee like beverage, a jam or even be eaten raw, the general consensus is that if one eats enough of the berries or they are particularly sensitive, then it could make one sick. Another way to judge this is that, while this plant does come up on poisonous plant lists, it does not come up on any credible edible plant or forage plant lists. Compared to much more toxic plants, it seems clear that Rhamnus californica is not very poisonous, but enough so that we have decided to note on our website that Rhamnus californica be considered a poisonous plant. 

This information about Rhamnus californica displayed is based on research conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens we have visited, as well how the crops have performed in containers in our nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share any cultural information that would aid others in growing it.