Autumn and Russian Olives

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Autumn and Russian Olives

Elaeagnus umbellata and angustifolia


These are similar small trees with slong silvery leaves. In summmer the scales fall off Autumn Olive, which becomes greener, while Russian Olive remains silvery.

Autumn Olive

Photo: John Oyston, Oak Hills Farm

The trumpet-like flowers produce red fruits with silver speckles. These can be eaten, dried or made into jam.

Autumn Olive Flowers Autumn Olive Fruit


These small trees were valued as ornamentals due to their silver coloured leaves, tolerance of drought, and ability to fix nitrogen, which allows them to grow on poor soil. They were imported into North America from China and Japan the 1830s and recommended for for wildlife habitat, mine reclamation, and shelterbelts.


Autumn olive invades old fields, woodland edges, and other disturbed areas. It can form a dense shrub layer which displaces native species and closes open areas.  

In Montana, Russian olives have crept to the river banks and invaded irrigation canals. One farmer reported that Russian olives are a water-sapping nuisance that have overtaken between 200 and 300 acres of grazing land along his mile or so of river frontage.

"In places they're so thick you can't get through them," he said.

"When it's time to bring the cattle up from winter pasture near the river, two-inch thorns cut horseflesh and human skin."

Control: The Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council Invasive Plant Manual recommends the following control measures:

Mechanical Controls

Cutting: Cut trees at ground level before seeds have a chance to form. Resprouts are common after treatment, requiring either an herbicidal control or repeated cutting of resprouts.

Girdling: Using a hand-axe, make a cut through the bark well into the cambium layer, encircling the base of the tree, approximately 15 cm (6 in) above the ground. Be sure that the cut goes well into or below the cambium layer. The top will die but the tree may resprout.

Hand Pulling: Remove young seedlings when the soil is loose after rain, being careful not to leave roots behind to resprout.

Herbicidal Controls

Foliar Spray Method: Used in thickets where there is no other vegetation.

Cut Stump Method: Used to kill individual trees or if valuable species would be killed by foliar spray.

Availability and alternatives:

Russian Olive plants are available from many North American nurseries, and seeds can also be bought over the Internet.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources suggests as alternatives to autumn olive or Russian olive in revegetation and wildlife habitat plantings: sweet-fern (Comptonia peregrina), bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), shining sumac (Rhus copallina), fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica), staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), black-haw (Viburnum prunifolium), shadbush (Amelanchier arborea, A. laevis), clammy locust (Robinia viscosa), redbud (Cercis canadensis), and New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus).