Eleagnus umbellata Thunberg
How did it get here?
to eastern Asia, autumn olive was introduced in the United
States in the 1830s. It was originally planted to reclaim
disturbed areas such as strip mines, to produce food and
cover for wildlife, and to provide windbreaks. Wildlife
eat the fruits and disperse the seeds. The plant is still
a common offering at plant nurseries and garden centers.
How to spot
umbellata T. is a deciduous
shrub or small tree that can grow to 15 feet tall. Rounded
in shape, it forms dense thickets. It leafs out in early
spring before most native shrubs. The oval-shaped, pointed
leaves are green and scaly on top with silvery white scales
leaves are 1 to 3 inches long and 1 to 1½ inches wide.
Branches have scattered thorns. The plant flowers in April
and May, bearing fragrant, light-yellow, bell-shaped blossoms
that are about ½ inch in diameter. Fruits ripen in August
and September and remain on the plants until late winter.
The abundant reddish berries are smaller than a pea and
covered with silver scales.
- Dry to moist, but not wet, soil. Thrives in sandy
floodplains. Roots have nitrogen-fixing
nodules that allow it to thrive in a wide range of soils.
- Common in disturbed
areas, including roadsides, pastures, old fields, utility
rights-of-way, and forest edges.
shade-tolerant but does not usually grow in forests.
olive reproduces by seed. It starts producing fruit at
3 to 5 years of age when it is about 4 to 8 feet tall.
It bears about 30 pounds of berries annually-roughly 66,000
seeds. Shade reduces fruit production. Birds, deer, bears,
and other wildlife eat the juicy berries and disperse
the seed through their droppings.
Look-alikes and how to distinguish
- Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)-berries
twice as big and very dry; also an invasive species; not
yet common in North Carolina.
- Silverthorn or thorny
olive (Elaeagnus pugens Thunberg)-evergreen;
flowers in late fall and produces fewer berries; also
Why is this plant a problem?
Autumn olive displaces native plants, especially
in infertile soil where its nitrogen-fixing capabilities
give it an advantage over natives.
- Hand-pull seedlings when the soil
is moist to ensure removal of the entire root system.
- Apply approved pesticides
on larger plants. For advice and instructions, click on these links
for the Virginia
Native Plant Society and the U.S.
- Do not cut or burn, as this promotes
vigorous re-sprouting and thicker growth.
Alternative, native ornamentals
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
Black haw (Viburnum prunifolium)
Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
Shining sumac (Rhus copallina)
Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)
American holly (Ilex opaca)
Bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanica)
Wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera)
Polytechnic Institute and State University’s College
of Natural Resources
of Georgia and partners
Fact sheet with photos
Description and biological profile
Environmental impact survey
“The Dirty Dozen, North Carolina’s Most Unwanted”
Prepared by The Nature Conservancy–North Carolina
Chapter in cooperation with the N.C. Division of Parks
and Recreation. For a copy, call TNC-NC at 919.403.8558.