One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Originally: any of various thorny shrubs, mostly of the family Rhamnaceae. In later use: specifically any plant of the genus Rhamnus (family Rhamnaceae), comprising shrubs and small trees native chiefly to the northern hemisphere, and including the common or purging buckthorn, R. cathartica, alder-leaved buckthorn, R. alnifolia, and numerous other species; (in form Rhamnus) the genus itself.
Mid 16th century; earliest use found in William Turner (d. 1568), naturalist and religious controversialist. From classical Latin rhamnus (also rhamnos), name of several thorny shrubs, perhaps including the Christ's thorn from ancient Greek ῥάμνος, name of various prickly shrubs, of uncertain origin; perhaps from the base of ῥάβδος rod + -νος, suffix forming nouns, or perhaps a loanword from a Mediterranean language.
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