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Evergreen buckthorn is a shrub or tree that can grow to 5m tall, but in exposed sites it may become a stunted shrub less than 1m tall. Young shoots are angular, hairy, usually purple, and the leaves are oval-shaped, slightly toothed, glossy and leathery. Flowers (May-November) are small, green, petal-less and fragrant, and are followed by glossy dark-red to black berries (5-7mm long) from December to January.
Evergreen buckthorn can invade a range of vegetation communities, including scrub, forest margins, tall forest, shrubland, fernland, riparian margins, cliffs and sand dunes. It establishes particularly readily in coastal areas, sometimes as an under-story to pohutukawa forests.
Evergreen buckthorn develops a dense leafy canopy, shading out native plant seedlings. It is drought, shade and frost tolerant, and re-sprouts easily after being damaged by grazing or fire. It reproduces vegetatively (underground) and by seed, with each plant producing many thousands of long-lived seeds.