Elaeagnus angustifolia (Russian Olive)
|Also known as:|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; fields, roadsides, railroads, along shores|
|Plant height:||10 to 35 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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1 to 3 short-stalked flowers in the leaf axils of the current year's new branches. Flowers are funnel-shaped, about ½ 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, 1 to 4 inches long, 3/8 to ¾ inch wide, toothless, narrowly lance-elliptic, blunt or pointed at the tip, mostly wedge-shaped 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 dull green with scattered scales and the lower remaining silvery-white.
Branches are sometimes thorny, the thorns up to 2 inches long, shiny dark reddish-brown. Older bark is gray, rough and somewhat flaky, peeling off in narrow strips. A mature tree is up to 6 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh), the crown heavily branched, rounded, and about as broad as tall. Plants can spread from root suckers.
Fruit is a dull, silvery to yellowish, oval to nearly round drupe up to ½ inch long, densely covered in silvery scales when young, becoming mostly smooth with maturity. Flesh is mealy but sweet. The pit inside is elliptic, nearly as long as the drupe.
Russian Olive was introduced to North America in the 1800s and was widely planted both as an ornamental and as a windbreak. It tolerates a range of soil conditions and is salt-tolerant, thus was commonly used for erosion control along highways, and also widely planted for “wildlife improvement”. As has happened with many other exotic species, it escaped cultivation and became an invasive pest, particularly in the western US, and especially along waterways where it crowds out native species, alters the ecology with its nitrogen-fixing abilities, and is reported to suck up more water resources than native species. It is currently being tracked with other invasive species in the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS), which shows it is present in numerous Wildlife Management Areas across the state. Control efforts in MN are unknown. Russian Olive is similar to the related, invasive Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), which is distinguished by clusters of up to 10 creamy white to pale yellow flowers, red fruits, leaves that are proportionately wider, and brown scales on new twigs. Also similar is the native Silverberry (Elaeagnus commutata), which has proportionately broader silvery leaves plus brown scales on new twigs. Russian Olive is also related to the native Shepherdia species, which have opposite leaves where Elaeagnus species have alternate leaves.
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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Russian Olive shrub
- Russian Olive small tree
- Russian Olive small tree
- Russian Olive in fall, with Amur Maple (red) and Autumn Olive (yellow)
- new leaves following bud-break
- maturing leaves
- more flowers
Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka and Washington counties, and in North Dakota.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?