Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)
Miller, J.H., E.B, Chambliss, N.J. Loewenstein. 2010. A Field Guide for the Identification of Invasive Plants in Southern Forests. General Technical Report SRS-119. Asheville, NC. United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 126 p.
Deciduous, thorny tree or shrub to 35 feet (10 m) in height with single or multiple boles, many long narrow leaves, and many yellow fruit covered with minute silvery scales. Rare at present in the South while a widespread invasive elsewhere in the United States. Most often confused with autumn olive (E. umbellata Thunb.).
Twigs slender, thorny, and densely silver scaly in the first year becoming glossy and greenish. Branches smooth and reddish brown. Pith pale brown to orange brown. Bark dark brown and densely fissured.
Alternate, long lanceolate to oblanceolate measuring 1.5 to 4 inches (4 to 10 cm) long and 0.4 to 1.2 inches (1 to 3 cm) wide. Margins entire (rarely toothed). Green to slightly silvery above with dense silver scales beneath. Petioles short and silvery.
April to July. Axillary clusters, each with 5 to 10 silvery-white to yellow flowers. Tubular with 4 lobes. Fragrant.
Fruit and seeds
August to October. Drupelike, hard fleshy fruit 0.5 inch (1.2 cm) long, resembling an olive. Light green to yellow with silvery scales. One nutlet in each fruit.
Found as rare plants in city forests, disturbed areas near forests, and escapes from surface mine plantings. Thrives in sandy floodplains. Shade intolerant. Spreads by bird- and animal-dispersed seeds. A nonleguminous nitrogen fixer.
Resembles silverthorn or thorny olive (E. pungens Thunb.), which is an evergreen with brown scaly and hairy twigs, flowers in late fall producing reddish silver-scaly drupes in spring. Also resembles autumn olive (E. umbellata Thunb.), a widespread invasive plant that has leaves with green nonscaly upper surfaces in summer and clusters of reddish, rounded berries in fall and early winter.
History and use
Native to Europe and Western Asia, a relatively recent (early 1900s) arrival in the upper part of the Southeast. Initially planted as a yard ornamental, for windbreaks, surface mine reclamation, and wildlife habitat. Widely escaped in the Western and Northeastern United States.
Found infrequently as escaped plants from ornamental and surface mine plantings in forests and urban areas in VA and NC.
- Do not plant. Remove prior plantings, and control sprouts and seedlings. Bag and dispose of fruit in a dumpster or burn.
- Treat when new plants are young to prevent seed formation.
- Cut and bulldoze when fruit are not present.
- Manually pull new seedlings and tree wrench saplings when soil is moist, ensuring removal of all roots.
- Burning treatments are suspected of having minimal topkill effect due to scant litter.
Recommended control procedures
Trees. Make stem injections using Arsenal AC* or Garlon 3A in dilutions and cut-spacings specified on the herbicide label (anytime except March and April). For felled trees, apply the herbicides to stump tops immediately after cutting. ORTHO Brush-B-Gon, Enforcer Brush Killer, and Vine-X are effective undiluted for treating cut-stumps and available in retail garden stores (safe to surrounding plants).
Saplings. When safety to surrounding vegetation is desired, apply a basal spray to young bark using either Garlon 4 as a 20-percent solution (5 pints per 3-gallon mix) in a labeled basal oil product, vegetable oil or mineral oil with a penetrant, or fuel oil or diesel fuel (where permitted); or undiluted Pathfinder II. Or when safety to surrounding vegetation is not a concern, apply Stalker* as a 6- to 9-percent solution (1.5 to 2 pints per 3-gallon mix) in a labeled basal oil product, vegetable oil, kerosene, or diesel fuel (where permitted).
Seedlings and saplings. Thoroughly wet all leaves with one of the following herbicides in water with a surfactant (July to October): Arsenal AC* as a 0.75-percent solution in water (3 ounces per 3-gallon mix) or Arsenal PowerLine* as a 1.5-percent solution (6 ounces per 3-gallon mix). Or when safety to surrounding vegetation is desired, use a glyphosate herbicide, Garlon 3A, or Garlon 4 as a 2-percent solution in water (8 ounces per 3-gallon mix). Use any of these three mixtures for directed spray treatments that have limited or no soil activity.
* Nontarget plants may be killed or injured by root uptake.