Eastern Forest Threat Center - Autumn Olive

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Autumn olive leaves and flower

Autumn olive leaves and flower

James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Autumn Olive
Elaeagnus umbellata

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

Keywords: Elaeagnaceae, deciduous, shrub, fleshy fruit, silver leaves, nitrogen fixing; Common names: Japanese silverberry, oleaster

Distribution Map Distribution Source Image

Threat Description

Autumn olive is a deciduous shrub that can grow to 20 feet in height. Its stems, buds, and leaves have a dense covering of silvery to rusty scales. Leaves are egg or lance-shaped, smooth margined, and alternate along the stem; the underside of leaves is covered with silver-white scales. Plants begin to flower after three years; small, light yellow, aromatic flowers appear in June and July. Fruits are small, round, pink to reddish and dotted with scales. Autumn olive spreads by seed, although some vegetative propagation also occurs. Birds and mammals disperse the fruits. Autumn olive is drought tolerant and thrives in a variety of soil and moisture conditions. This trait allows it to invade grasslands, fields, open woodlands, and disturbed areas. Because autumn olive is capable of fixing nitrogen in its roots, it can also grow on bare mineral substrates. It threatens native ecosystems by out-competing and displacing native plant species, creating dense shade, and interfering with natural plant succession and nutrient cycling.