One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
An evergreen buckthorn of southern Europe, Rhamnus alaternus (family Rhamnaceae), with alternate oval leaves, greenish flowers, and dark red to black fruit; especially (also with distinguishing word or words) any of the cultivated varieties of this grown for ornament or hedging.
Early 17th century; earliest use found in Edward Topsell (d. 1625), Church of England clergyman and author. From classical Latin alaternus, shrub of the genus buckthorn, of unknown origin.
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