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Buckthorn Family (Rhamnaceae). Mountain whitethorn is a densely branched, spiny, evergreen, flat-topped native shrub, which reaches heights of 2 to 5 feet. However, at elevations, such as the Lake Tahoe Basin, it assumes a low spreading growth form. Individual plants may spread to form continuous ground cover over areas with a diameter up to 12 feet. The numerous stems terminate in a hard sharp point thus, the name whitethorn.
Whitethorn flowers form in a small, dense cluster 1 to 2 inches long. The flowers, which bloom from late spring to mid summer, have a heavy penetrating fragrance. During the flowering season, the abundant white flowers may cause areas to appear covered with snow.