Elaeagnus umbellata (Autumn Olive)
|Also known as:|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; disturbed soil; waste areas, fields, roadsides, fencerows, woods, thickets|
|Bloom season:||May - June|
|Plant height:||4 to 16 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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2 to 10 short-stalked flowers in the leaf axils of the current year's new branches. Flowers are funnel-shaped, about ½ inch long and nearly as wide, with 4 spreading, triangular, petal-like sepals that are creamy white to pale yellow, fused at the base forming a slender, 4-sided tube that is a little longer than the sepal lobes. Inside the tube are 4 yellow stamens and a pale style. The stalk and outer surface of the sepals are densely covered in pale scales. Flowers are very fragrant and turn darker yellow as they age.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are alternate, 1 to 3 inches long, up to 1 inch wide, toothless, often wavy around the edges, lance-elliptic, blunt at the tip, wedge-shaped to rounded at the base, on a stalk less than ½ inch long. New leaves are densely covered in silvery-white scales on both surfaces, the upper surface becoming bright to dull green and appearing dotted, the lower remaining silvery often with scattered brown scales mixed with the white.
New twigs are densely covered in silvery-white scales and scattered brown scales, becoming scaly brown the second year and eventually red-brown. Branches are sometimes thorny, the thorns as scaly as the twig.
Stems are multiple from the base or sometimes a single, central trunk with gray bark that is split and furrowed. A mature shrub is heavily branched with ascending branches and is about as broad as tall.
Fruit is an oval drupe ¼ to 1/3 inch long, densely covered in pale scales when young and ripens to red in the fall (hence the common name). Flesh is juicy and edible, sweet when ripe. Inside is a single seed.
Autumn Olive was introduced to North America in 1830 and became an invasive pest to our east after being widely planted for erosion control and “wildlife improvement”. It is known for creating dense shade, crowding out native species and altering the ecology with its nitrogen-fixing abilities. It can produce copious amounts of fruit, the seeds spread far and wide by birds, and it has a high germination rate. It quickly resprouts after cutting. It is currently only reported in a few counties in Minnesota, but is likely under-reported and no doubt spreading. This is one that should be eradicated before it gets a bigger foothold here. Populations of Autumn Olive are tracked with other invasive species in the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS), but this is not really on anyone's watch list in MN and probably won't be until it's too late to do much about it. Unfortunately, that's how it often goes. At least Wisconsin recognizes it as a serious pest. Autumn Olive resembles the related Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), another exotic species with proportionately narrower leaves, only silvery-white scales, larger dull yellowish fruit, and can reach heights of 30 feet. Also similar is the native Silverberry (Elaeagnus commutata), a smaller shrub with leaves that remain silvery-green on the upper surface throughout the season, have darker yellow flowers, and larger, pale yellowish fruits. The native Shepherdia species are also similar, but have opposite leaves where Elaeagnus species have alternate leaves.
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- Autumn Olive shrub
- Autumn Olive shrub
- a thicket of Autumn Olive
- Autumn Olive shrub
- Autumn Olive on display at the MN Landscape Arboretum
- fall color
- flowering Autumn Olive shrub
- branch with thorn
- flowering Autumn Olive branch
- white scales on leaf underside
- new branch and leaves, in spring
- late season leaves
- yellowing flowers
Photos by K. Chayka taken in Lino Lakes at the Anoka-Ramsey County line. Photos courtesty Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka, Houston and Le Sueur counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?