Originally posted in July 2011 by Sheina Sim
Not an olive at all – I was a little apprehensive about trying te autumn olive because of my distaste for tapenades; however, I discovered that their flavor more closely resembles currants, cranberries, and peaches, much to my delight.
The autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb.), also known as the Japanese silverberry, was introduced from East Asia into the United States as an ornamental shrub around 1830. A quick and weedy grower even in poor-quality soil, it has also served as a popular choice for erosion control. Its sweet, reddish and silver speckled berries have also served as a treat for people and wildlife alike. Unfortunately, these traits (high fecundity, rapid growth, tolerance of poor soil quality, and a tasty fruit) have served to make autumn olive a potent invasive species. Its impacts have been especially hard hitting for native species that also specialize in poor-quality environments, where they typically have not had to deal with much competition.
Autumn olive shrubs can be identified by their oval to lanceolate leaves, small and light yellow flowers, and small, round, fleshy, berries which are reddish to pink with silver specks. These hardy plants are tolerant to salt, drought, and a soil pH as low as 4.0. They are relatively intolerant of wet habitats or dense forests but thrive in disturbed habitats. In the US today, autumn olives are found on both the east and west coasts, and they are abundant throughout much of the Midwest.
Individual shrubs can be controlled in a straightforward manner; autumn olive can be removed mechanically either by full removal of young plants or cutting, girdling, and burning older plants (although this has encouraged vigorous regrowth in some cases); and herbicide treatments have also had success, although impacts on non-target species remains a concern with many chemical treatments. Population control is notably more difficult because birds and other wildlife consume the fruits and disperse seeds far and wide in their feces. If you can beat the wildlife to the tasty fruits, you may be able to help control the spread of autumn olive. The berries are delicious right off the bush, and we’ll soon provide some recipes invasivores will love.