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!***


A self-proclaimed modern day nomad, I was born in the Philippines, grew up in southern California—lived all over really—and now I do research as a graduate student in Indiana and the Pacific Northwest. Professionally speaking, my current area of focus is speciation and ecological genetics and genomics, and a common theme in my various projects over the years is evolution in agricultural systems. As a recipient of a GLOBES—an interdisciplinary program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Integrative Graduate Education, Research, and Traineeship grant (IGERT) —fellowship, I have received training which has better enabled me to view and ponder topics without my science hat on. I take great joy in eating, cooking, and experiencing nature through various activities. I love to travel and anticipate many local and international invasivore field trips! Though my research interests do not directly involve the study of invasive species, I have had my fair share of negative encounters with environmentally noxious organisms in the midst of doing field research. I carry around a machete with which to combat my gnarly “Himalayan” foes, and my machete and I have raised more than a few eyebrows. Apart from my personal vendetta against these deliciously juicy pests, I feel that there are great advantages to linking our awareness of the natural world to our culture, and Invasivore is an avenue to do just that. I feel that an increase in general knowledge of invasive species will be of great benefit to the field of invasive species and conservation biology. Knowledge and awareness will lead to action, and action will lead to results!

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