Eastern Forest Threat Center - Russian Olive

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Russian olive leaves and flowers

Russian olive leaves and flowers

Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Russian Olive
Elaeagnus angustifolia

Russian olive is native to southern Europe and western Asia. Since its introduction into the U.S. in the early 1900s, it has been planted in landscapes, along roadsides because of its salt tolerance, and for windbreaks, wildlife habitat, and surface mine reclamation.

Keywords: Elaeagnaceae, deciduous, tree, thorns, silver scales, bell-shaped flowers, fleshy fruit, nitrogen fixing; Common names: oleaster

Distribution Map Distribution Source Image

Threat Description

Russian olive is a small deciduous tree or large thorny shrub in the oleaster family that can grow 15 to 30 ft. in height. It is generally rounded in shape with a loose arrangement of branches. Its stems, buds, and leaves have a dense covering of silvery to rusty scales. Twigs have silvery scales and thorns. Leaves are simple, alternate, 1-3 in. long, lance-shaped, and silvery on both sides. Flowers, appearing in June and July, are bell-shaped, single or clustered in the leaf axils, fragrant, and have yellowish insides and silver outsides. Fruits resembling olives are drupe-like, ½ in. long, light green to yellow with silvery scales, hard, and fleshy. Plants begin to flower and fruit at three years of age. Reproduction is by seed as well as sprouting from buds on the root crown and suckering. Seedlings are tolerant of shade and thrive in a variety of soil and moisture conditions. Russian olive is capable of fixing nitrogen in its roots, so it can also grow on bare mineral substrates. It is found along fields, open areas, grasslands, stream banks, lakeshores, roadsides, and urban areas. It can interfere with natural plant succession and nutrient cycling and can tax water reserves.