Elaeagnus commutata (Silverberry)
|Also known as:||Wolf Willow|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; open prairie, along shores, open woods, thickets|
|Bloom season:||May - July|
|Plant height:||3 to 12 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: UPL MW: UPL NCNE: UPL|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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1 to 4 short-stalked flowers in the leaf axils of the current year's new branches. Flowers are funnel-shaped, ¼ to 3/8 inch long and about as wide, with 4 spreading, triangular, petal-like sepals that are yellow on the inner surface and silvery on the outer, and fused at the base forming a squarish tube about as long as 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 silvery scales. Flowers are very fragrant.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are alternate, 1¼ to 2½ inches long, ½ to 1¼ inches 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. Leaves are densely covered in silvery-white scales on both surfaces, as well as scattered rusty-brown scales on the lower, with both surfaces remaining silvery-green throughout the season.
New leaves may have rusty-brown veins and edging. New twigs are densely covered in rusty-brown scales, becoming scaly gray the second year and eventually smooth reddish-brown with scattered pale lenticels (pores). Branches lack thorns. Older bark on the trunk is gray to gray-brown and rough or scaly. A mature shrub may reach 2½ inches near the base. Plants often form loose colonies from spreading rhizomes and root suckering.
Fruit is a dull, silvery to yellowish, oval to nearly round drupe up to ½ inch long, densely covered in silvery scales when young. Flesh is mealy and inedible. The pit inside is elliptic, nearly as long as the drupe.
Silverberry reaches the eastern edge of its US range in Minnesota. It grows in a variety of conditions from moist to dry, usually in open, sunny locations but tolerates some shade and is occasionally found under the canopy of Aspen or Poplar stands. While Silverberry may reach heights of 12 feet (or more), 3 to 6 feet is more common in Minnesota. Its relatively small stature, yellow flowers, leaves that remain silvery on the upper surface throughout the season, twigs with rusty-brown scales, and pale, mealy fruit distinguish it from both Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), which is a small tree having twigs with silvery-white scales, and from Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), which has creamy white flowers and red fruits. Both Russian and Autumn Olive have thorns on at least some branches, where Silverberry is thornless, and Silverberry is almost always found in spreading colonies where the other two rarely are, at least not in Minnesota. The native Shepherdia species are also similar, but have opposite leaves where Elaeagnus species have alternate leaves.
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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Silverberry shrub
- Silverberry shrubs
- a colony of Silverberry
- a colony of Silverberry
- rusty tinged leaves
- flowering Silverberry
Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Kittson, Marshall and Polk counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?