Jul 26

Species Profile: Autumn olive

I was a little apprehensive about trying autumn olive because of my distaste for tapenades and olives in general.  However, I discovered that it actually has a flavor akin to currants, cranberries, and peaches; which means I can file the autumn olive (or Japanese silverberry) as a delicious fruit in my book.

Autumn olive fruit. Photo credit: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources – Forestry Archive

The Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb.), also known as the Japanese silverberry, was introduced into the United States as an ornamental shrub around 1830 from East Asia for its reddish and silver speckled berries.  A quick and weedy grower in poor quality soil, it was also used for erosion control. Unfortunately, these traits (high fecundity, rapid growth, tolerance of poor quality soil) make autumn olive a dangerous competitor for native species that are also accustomed to nitrogen poor environments which previously had few competitors.

The shrubs can be identified by their oval to lanceolate leaves, small light yellow flowers, and small round reddish to pink fruits with silver specks.  These hardy plants are tolerant to salt, drought, and a soil pH as low as 4.0.  They thrive in disturbed habitats, but not in wet habitats or in dense forests.  Autumn olive can be found in most of the eastern United States as well as some of the western states.  They can be removed mechanically as seedlings or chemically, although care must be taken not to kill non-target species.

Autumn olive distribution in the United States. Image credit: EDD Maps

***For recipes featuring the tasty fruit of this invasive plant, check out our autumn olive jam!***


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  1. Alison Kerr | Loving Nature's Garden

    I love your idea of using invasives to help us get rid of them. This seems much better than simply spraying them with pesticides. Can’t wait to see what you suggest for English Ivy!

  2. Lea Cullen Boyer

    Count me in!! I can’t wait for our Autumn Olive to fruit. Looks like a wonderful use.

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