The Bugwood Network

Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas

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.

Autumn Olive
Autumn Olive
Autumn Olive
Elaeagnus umbellata

Origin: East Asia

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.

Distribution and Ecological Threat
Autumn olive is found from Maine to Virginia and west to Wisconsin. It is drought tolerant and thrives in a variety of soil and moisture conditions. This trait allows it to invade grasslands, fields, open woodlands and disturbed areas. It threatens native ecosystems by out-competing and displacing native plant species, creating dense shade and interfering with natural plant succession and nutrient cycling. Because autumn olive is capable of fixing nitrogen in its roots, it can grow on bare mineral substrates.

Description and Biology

  • Plant: deciduous shrub that can grow to 20 feet in height; stems, buds and leaves have a dense covering of silvery to rusty scales.
  • Leaves: egg or lance-shaped, smooth margined and alternate along the stem; underside of leaves covered with silver-white scales.
  • Flowers, fruits and seeds: plants begin to flower after three years. Small, light yellow, aromatic flowers appear in June and July; fruits are small, round, pink to reddish and dotted with scales.
  • Spreads: by seed, although some vegetative propagation also occurs. Birds and mammals disperse fruits.

Prevention and Control
Do not plant autumn olive. Individual young plants can be hand-pulled, ensuring that roots are removed. Cutting, in combination with herbicide application, is effective. Hedges can be cut down using a brush type mower, chain saw, or similar tool, and stumps treated with a systemic herbicide like glyphosate or triclopyr. Application of these herbicides to foliage is also effective but is likely to impact non-target species. Herbivorous animals are not known to feed on it and few insects seem to utilize or bother it. Canker disease is occasionally a problem but not enough to be useful as a control agent.

Native Alternatives

spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
Chris Miller, NRCS
northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)
Northern Bayberry
Chris Miller, NRCS
arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)
Britt Slattery, USFWS
black haw (Viburnum prunifolium)
Black Haw
Chris Miller, NRCS
gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
Gray Dogwood
Britt Slattery, USFWS
winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
Chris Miller, NRCS

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USDA Forest ServiceUSDA APHIS PPQThe Bugwood Network University of Georgia Bargeron, C.T., D.J. Moorhead, G.K. Douce, R.C. Reardon & A.E. Miller
(Tech. Coordinators). 2003. Invasive Plants of the Eastern U.S.:
Identification and Control. USDA Forest Service - Forest Health
Technology Enterprise Team. Morgantown, WV USA. FHTET-2003-08.