Family: Elaeagnaceae (Oleaster Family)
Duration and Habit: Perennial Shrub
Autumn olive is a deciduous shrub or small tree in the Oleaster family (Elaeagnaceae) that grows to approximately 20 feet in height. Leaves are dark green, alternate, oval to lanceolate, and untoothed. The underside is covered with silver-white scales. The small, light yellow flowers are borne along twigs after the leaves have appeared early in the growing season.
Ecological Threat: Autumn olive has the potential of becoming one of the most troublesome shrubs in the central and eastern United States. It exhibits prolific fruiting and rapid growth that suppresses native plants. It is widely disseminated by birds and can easily adapt to many sites. Due to its nitrogen-fixing capabilities, it has the capacity to adversely affect the nitrogen cycle of native communities that may depend on infertile soils.
Biology & Spread: The small, round, juicy fruits are reddish to pink, dotted with scales, and produced in great quantity. Birds forage on its fruits and contribute to seed dispersal.
History: Introduced from China and Japan. Autumn olive was introduced into the United States in 1830 and widely planted as an ornamental, for wildlife habitat, as windbreaks and to restore deforested and degraded lands.
U.S. Habitat: It grows well in a variety of soils including sandy, loamy, and somewhat clayey textures with a pH range of 4.8-6.5. It has nitrogen-fixing root nodules which allow it to thrive in poor soils. Mature trees tolerate light shade, but produce more fruits in full sun, and seedlings may be shade intolerant. It does not do well on wet sites or in densely forested areas. It is drought tolerant and may invade grasslands and sparse woodlands. Typical habitats are disturbed areas, roadsides, pastures and fields.
U.S. Nativity: Introduced to U.S.
Native Origin: China, Korea, Japan (Alfred Rehder, Manual of Cultivated Trees and Shrubs: Hardy in North America, The MacMillan Co., New York (1967)); China, Japan, Himalayas (Bailey, L.H. and E.Z. Bailey, Hortus Third: A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada, MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York , (1977).); NatureServe Explorer
U.S. Present: AL, AR, CT, FL, GA, HI, IA, IL, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MO, MS, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, VA, VT, WI, WV
Distribution: Reported invasive in CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, MD, MI, MO, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, TN, VA, VT, and WI
Autumn olive is easily confused with a closely related species, Russian olive, which is also an invasive species. Russian olive has elliptic to lanceolate leaves, its branches are usually thorny, and its fruit is yellow, dry and mealy.
Native alternatives include: spicebush (Lindera benzoin), northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), black haw (Viburnum prunifolium), gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa), winterberry (Ilex verticillata).
Manual- Seedlings and sprouts can be hand-pulled when the soil is moist to insure removal of the
root system. Note: On larger plants, cutting alone results in thicker, denser growth. Burning during
the dormant season also results in vigorous re-sprouting.
Chemical- It can be effectively controlled using any of several readily available general use herbicides such as glyphosate. Foliar application has proven effective in controlling these species. Since glyphosate is a nonselective herbicide it will affect all green vegetation with which it comes into contact. Care should be taken to avoid impacting native plant species. Glyphosate herbicides are recommended because they are biodegradable. Follow label and state requirements.
USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Area, Forest Health Protection's Invasive Plants Website (http://www.na.fs.fed.us/fhp/invasive%5Fplants/weeds)
Swearingen, J., K. Reshetiloff, B. Slattery, and S. Zwicker. 2002. Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas. National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 82 pp.
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