Frangula californica

California coffeeberry


The Basics

Taxonomy: Kingdom - Plantae (plants). Subkingdom - Tracheobionta (vascular plants). Superdivision - Spermatophyta (seed plants). Division - Magnoliophyta (flowering plants). Class - Magnoliopsida (dicotyledons). Subclass - Rosidae. Order - Rhamnales. Family - Rhamnaceae (buckthorn). Genus - Frangula Mill. Species - Frangula californica (Eschsch.) A. Gray

Ecology: California coffeeberry is a long-lived and moderately shade-tolerant shrub that is highly persistent within chaparral, hardwood woodland, and open conifer forests. During extended fire free-intervals, California coffeeberry is able to outlive, overtop, and shade out many shorter-lived species. As a component of relatively open canopied stands, plants persist until the next fire occurs, at which time sprouted individuals become part of the initial postfire vegetation.California coffeeberry exhibits a wide ecological amplitude. Sites include dry flats, moist slopes, ravines, and rocky ridges, usually at elevations below 1,677 m. Soils are typically dry and well drained. Established plants tolerate full sun to moderate shade.


Habit: Shrub < 5 m. Stem: bark bright gray, brown, or red; twigs brown, gray, or red, glabrous, tomentose, or hairs of 2 lengths; terminal bud glabrous to velvety. Leaf: generally evergreen; petiole 3--10 mm; blade 20--100 mm, elliptic to ovate, +- leathery, +- glabrous to tomentose, base acute to rounded, tip truncate to acute or mucronate, margin entire to toothed, +- rolled under or not, veins generally prominent. Inflorescence: 5--60-flowered; pedicel < 20 mm. Flower: hypanthium 1--2 mm wide. Fruit: generally 2-stoned, 10--15 mm, black.


Fire effects: California coffeeberry is quite resistant to fire mortality. Although aerial portions may be top-killed, most plants survive fire. Vigorous sprouting is the primary means by which California coffeeberry reestablishes itself in the postfire environment.


Seed production and dispersal - Onset of seed production occurs early in California coffeeberry, usually by 2 to 3 years of age. Seeds are dispersed in the fall. Significant, widespread dispersal of the pea-sized berries occurs through animals, particularly birds. Bird harvest of the fruit crop is often so complete that relatively few seeds fall beneath the parent plant. The seeds of California coffeeberry are apparently quite short lived.

Vegetative regeneration - In the absence of fire, many long-lived sprouters within stands of mature chaparral rejuvenate their canopies by continually producing new sprouts from established root crowns. Generalized information indicates that California coffeeberry may also maintain itself in this manner. Following disturbances such as fire or cutting, California coffeeberry sprouts from surviving adventitious buds on the root crown.

Species Distribution


USDA Plants Database
USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

USFS Plant Database
Habeck, R. J. 1992. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.

The Jepson Herbarium
The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California. B.G. Baldwin, D.H. Goldman, D.J. Keil, R. Patterson, T.J. Rosatti, and D.H. Wilken [editors]. 2012. 2nd edition, thoroughly revised and expanded. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

CalPhotos Photo Database. University of California Berkeley.
Photo credit: Br. Alfred Brousseau, Saint Mary's College.
Photo credit: John J. Kehoe 2008