Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

Oleaster Family (Elaeagnaceae)

Native Range    East Asia

Description

Autumn olive is a deciduous shrub that can grow to 20 ft. in height. The stems, buds and leaves have a dense covering of silvery to rusty scales. Leaves are alternate, egg or lance-shaped, smooth margined, dull green above and often with brown scales beneath.

Autumn olive flowers in June and July. The densely clustered blossoms are aromatic, pale yellow, and fused at the base with 4 petals pointed at the tips. Small, red-brown to pink fruit is produced in August through October. The fruit is dotted with brown or silvery scales.

Look-alikes

  • Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) leaves are narrow-elongate with silvery scales on both sides and fruit is mealy, yellow or silvery;
  • Thorny olive (E. pungens) has leaves that are persistent, egg-shaped with wavy margins, upper surfaces shiny green, lacking scales, and lower surfaces covered with dull white scales and dotted with light brown scales.

Identification Video

Ecological Threat

Autumn olive threatens native ecosystems by out-competing and displacing native plant species, creating dense shade and interfering with natural plant succession and nutrient cycling.

Distribution and Background

Autumn olive was introduced into the United States in 1830 and widely planted as an ornamental, for wildlife habitat, as windbreaks and to restore deforested and degraded lands.

Alternative Plants (Alternative native Species)

Many attractive native shrubs are available that make great substitutes for autumn olive. A few examples include:

  • Downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
  • Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)
  • Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
  • Redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
  • Winterberry(Ilex verticillata)
  • Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

Whenever possible, use as alternatives plant species that are native and adapted to the ecological region where you live. They will be more valuable to the wildlife species that have evolved with them and depend upon them for food and shelter. Check with your local native plant society for recommendations and sources of native plants.

Biology and Spread

Autumn olive is found from Maine to Virginia and west to Wisconsin in grasslands, fields, open woodlands and other disturbed areas. It is drought tolerant and thrives in a variety of soil and moisture conditions. Because autumn olive is capable of fixing nitrogen in its roots, it can grow on bare mineral substrates.

Autumn olive seed is dispersed by birds and mammals; some vegetative propagation also occurs.

Management Options

Mechanical and chemical methods are the primary means of control for autumn olive.

For disposal options, refer to the Disposal page.

Plant Control

Manual, mechanical and chemical means are available to control established plantings.

Biological

At this time no means of biological control is available for controlling autumn olive.

Manual

Remove young seedlings by hand before they produce seeds. Seedlings are best pulled after a rain when the soil is loose. Remove the entire root system to avoid resprouting.

Mechanical

Cutting or mowing is effective in controlling autumn olive. Cutting is most effective when combined with an application of herbicide to cut surfaces. A digging fork or weed wrench may be used to uproot small to medium sized shrubs. Try to remove the entire root system if possible.

Stems should be cut at least once during the growing season, and as close to ground level as possible.

Chemical

Apply systemic herbicides like glyphosate and triclopyr to control autumn olive.

 

More Information

For more information on invasive species in Massachusetts, refer to the Massachusetts Prohibited Plant List at http://www.mass.gov/agr/farmproducts/prohibitedplantlist.htm.

References

National Park Service, General Guidance for Most Shrubs http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/pubs/midatlantic/control-shrubsandsubshrubs.htm

Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, DCNR Invasive Exotic Plant Tutorial for Natural Lands Managers  http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/cs/groups/public/documents/document/dcnr_010230.pdf

Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health http://www.invasive.org/browse/subinfo.cfm?sub=3021

Invasive plant Species Assessment Working Group http://www.in.gov/dnr/files/Autumn_Olive.pdf