The Autumn Olive, botanically named Elaeagnus Umbellata, is originally from South East Asia. Specifically China, Korea and Japan. Other names for this plant include Spreading oleaster, Wolf Berry, Russian olive, Autumn Berry and Japanese Silverberry. It is from the Elaeagnaceae family and the Plantae Kingdom. This plant is a known invasive, and in this article we will talk about how to remove autumn olive from your yard.
Full sunlight and dry conditions are adequate for the growth of this plant. Autumn olive adapts easily to many kinds of soil, including those that contain loam, clay-loam, sand, or gravelly material. This shrub tolerates soil with a high pH and greater than normal levels of salt; it also tolerates soil that is fairly acidic.
It is also very woody with thick branches, which makes it hard to remove autumn olive from your yard.
Physical characteristics of autumn olive
Autumn olive is a deciduous shrub that loses its leaves every year. It grows about 10-20ft tall with thick crowns. Its branches come in the form of sharp thorns. It has a grey bark that is creased and split on the central trunk on mature shrubs.
The bark of the medium branches is grey-brown and smooth. While the young branches are covered with small white silvery scales called lepidotes that usually fade out when it rains.
This species have both male and female organs – hermaphrodites which are pollinated by bees.
The Leaves are feather shaped, 2-4 inches long and ½ to 1 inch wide. The upper surface is sparsely white and covered with small scaly leaves (lepidote), lower surface densely white lepidote, apex acute to sometimes obtuse, petioles ½ inch long.
Fragrant flowers appear in bunches of 1-7, white to light yellow, 0.3 inch long and in diameter.
The edges are very wavy on the edges and it is quite easy to identify them. Just look out for their silvery back and their slim and long shape.
Is the autumn olive edible?
The autumn olive flowers start to form from May to early June, and the berries start to ripe from September to November. Trying to eat the fruits earlier than September, let’s say mid-August, will cause you to get a mouth slap feeling. You have to time the right moment to pluck this fruit if you want to enjoy it at its best. Waiting too long will cause the birds to get to it before you. So you have to time it properly.
A fact about the autumn olive plant is that it only gives berries once in two years. But when it does, it produces them in large quantities.
The fruit size is usually 0.2-0.4 inch in diameter and possesses a silver-like and yellow look when unripe, and turns red with silvery scales when ripe.
To check if they ripe without having to taste them, just shake the berries from the tree a little bit and you would see them falling down with ease.
Its fruits are generally edible. They have a pulpy, sweet-tart and juicy taste which fall in between the cherry and cranberry in taste.
Health benefits of the autumn olive
The berries contain high amounts of carotenoids and lycopene, a bit higher than tomatoes, which studies have shown to help prevent prostate cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, and fight myocardial infarction.
Additionally, it has other phytonutrients and compounds like alpha crypid xanthine and beta crypid xanthine.
Beta cypid xanthine contains Vitamin A. Studies show that the levels of the beta crypid xanthine are 10 times higher than those in oranges and tangerine. Meaning they help better your eyesight.
The leaf extract of this plant possesses Antibacterial properties that help fight against Staphylococcus.
The seeds of the autumn olive can be used as a treatment for cough. It is a great source of fatty acids which you will rarely see in fruits. The oil from this fruit is also good for the treatment of pulmonary infections.
Ecological Threat of autumn olive
Autumn olive is a vigorously competitive and rapidly growing invasive plant species. After the invasion, it easily disrupts the native vegetation. Although the exotic species has been used to treat low soil fertility, land reclamation and nitrogen fixation, its uncontrolled proliferation can cause havoc.
Autumn olive is becoming troublesome in central and eastern U.S. due to its high growth rate. Each plant can produce up to 200,000 seeds per year with >70% germination rate. Autumn olive eradication can be a difficult task after its establishment. If cut off or burning the shrub, it will regrow again. Therefore, it is not recommended to use it commercially or for agricultural purposes.
It is also reported to have great allelopathic potential and significantly increases the competition for companion plants which leads to the formation of a monoculture.
Why is autumn olive invasive?
Autumn olive was originally cultivated in the 19th century for wildlife habitation, wasteland reclamation, shelter for wildlife, nesting area, wind breakage, erosion control, and to amend the soil basically. But it did more harm than good to farmers. It started taking over natural plants in their habitats by taking a thick shade that limits the growth of plants around the autumn olive. This action made it end up being tagged invasive.
Autumn olive is a particularly invasive species and is listed as a category 1 weed by the U.S. Forest Service for the Southern Region. Consequently, the sale, propagation and planting of the autumn olive have been prohibited in some parts of the United States. It is therefore advised to remove autumn olive from your yard.
This plant has been known to take over more and more areas due to its high seed production and higher germination rate. Even after burning or cutting autumn olive down, It tends to sprout up again quickly.
Autumn olive is a pioneering species by nature meaning it tends to outshine other trees around.
The autumn olive replaces native plants in natural areas. This causes a reduction in the critical food resources for animals that rely on such for feeding which usually include birds and butterflies.
How does the autumn olive spread?
It can produce up to 200,000 seeds each year, and can spread over a variety of habitats as its nitrogen-fixing root nodules allows the plant to grow in even the most unfavorable soils. A study shows that one shrub can produce up to 80 pounds of berries in a year.
Birds help this plant spread to different areas. For some reason, they tend to be highly attracted to their seeds and spread them around to different areas.
The seed dispersal of autumn olive usually takes place with the help of mammals, birds and other wildlife such as house finches, mockingbirds, ruffed grouse, black bears, skunks, sparrows, raccoons and many more. Insects facilitate the pollination of flowers.
Long-distance dispersal of seed can be intentional or unintentional, either with the help of birds or human activity.
How to remove autumn olive?
Because of its troublesome nature, you have to be careful when trying to remove autumn olive, because the wrong method can prove fatal causing further spreading of this plant. Mind you, that the hardness of the plant, quick germination and high seed production are some of the reasons why this plant has become a famous invasive.
In full sun, autumn olive can flourish easily. Monitor your land and prevent reestablishment of plants even after the application of herbicides. The best time to eradicate autumn olive is early spring or late fall.
There are basically 3 methods to use to get rid of the autumn olive. Either Chemically, Mechanically or Biologically:
For the best result, cutting or mowing is integrated with herbicide treatment for complete eradication of autumn olive.
Where the thicket is present, cut all stems back to the ground with a chainsaw or weed-eater which has a brush blade attachment. Allow the cut stems to re-sprout, and then spray the ground level foliage with a 5% solution of glyphosate with surfactant. Retreat as necessary for full control. Monitor for seedlings and spray or hand-pull when found.
Similarly, apply herbicide after burning the shrub in an infested area. After mowing or burning, closely monitor the site for successive growing seasons. Leaves of new sprouts can be easily seen in spring.
Chemical control – Foliar Application
Foliar application is also an effective control measure to completely eradicate autumn olive. The plant should be treated during the summer between July to August. The most commonly used herbicides are dicamba, Tordon 101, Banvel, glyphosate and 2,4-D.
Dicamba is applied in combination with surfactant. It will completely kill the growth of plants for the next growing seasons. Do not apply excessive to the point of runoff. The chemical can damage native vegetation in the vicinity.
During the dormant season, basal treatment of labeled herbicide on the main stem (on the lower 12-18 inches) can effectively prevent and control the growth of autumn olive. Stem injections of 2,4-D in combination with triclopyr will show excellent results.
Always read labels and guidelines before the application of herbicides.
The small sprouts of autumn olives can be pulled manually or dugout when the soil is soft and moist. Pull the seedling out of the soil without disturbing the soil. Tools can be used to increase the efficiency of the control method.
Taking this plant out mechanically can be done through excavation or digging out the roots. Mowing or cutting of this plant would only cause it to grow more rapidly. So you have to dig for the roots.
According to reports, a rust species named Aecidium elaeagni-umbellatae can be used to control the invasion of autumn olive. The method should be integrated with the chemical treatment for complete removal of shrubs.
A concentrated grazing method can also be used, with the use of sheep and goats. The method is called the chop and drop method. Whereby they eat the smaller growth and the new shoots growing back.
This method involves a high concentration of these animals on a particular area of land for it to work effectively. It has to be cyclical. That is it has to be done continuously because the autumn olive will try to grow back. But with continuous eating from the goats, autumn olive wouldn’t stand a chance.
You can also lure pigs to where these autumn olives are located. Throw some sweet corn in areas where the autumn olives are located. Doing this will draw the pigs to the plants and they will do the chopping for you.
Things to avoid when trying to remove autumn olive
- Using a chainsaw alone to try and cut down this plant will make it come back bigger and faster.
- Trying to burn the autumn Olive is also a bad idea. You won’t succeed in burning all the roots because they go deep down. In no time they will grow twice in size.
Despite its many disadvantages and its weed-like nature, you will agree with me that the autumn olive also has benefits. There are lots of measures people have come up with or are trying to come up with to put down this plant, but digging it out completely remains the best option.