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Russian olive

(Elaeagnus angustifolia)

Photo of Russian olive
Photo credit: Elizabeth J. Czarapata

Small deciduous tree with silvery foliage. Russian olive can reach 30 feet. Twigs have a terminal spine and are covered by small silvery scales.

Overview

Other names for this plant
  • Common names: oleaster
  • Scientific names: E. hortensis; E. moorcroftii; E. orientalis
Ecological threat
  • Russian olive invades open areas, including wet areas. It uses water more quickly than native species and can dry out riparian areas.
  • Alters nutrient cycling by adding nitrogen to the soil.
Overview map of Russian olive classification in WI
Restricted (orange) counties

Classification in Wisconsin: Restricted

Species Assessment Groups (SAG) were assembled to recommend a legal classification for each species considered for NR 40. The recommendation for Russian olive was based upon this literature review [PDF] developed by the department.

Identification

Leaves: Simple and alternate. Leaves are silver on both sides, longer and more lance-shaped. It has a gray-green hue when seen from a distance.

Flowers: Tube- or bell-shaped, fragrant and borne in leaf axils. Blooms in late spring. Russian olive flowers are yellow inside and silver outside.

Fruits & seeds: Fruits are yellow, dry and olive-like; they are readily dispersed by birds.

Roots: Associated with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Cutting or other damage causes root suckering.

Similar species: Two native buffaloberries, silver (Sheperdia argentea) and russet (S. canadensis), have silvery foliage but their leaves are opposite. Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata; invasive) grows to be 20 feet tall. Its leaves are dark green on top and silver-gray on the underside, lance-shaped or elliptic, with entire, wavy margins. Flowers are creamy-white to light yellow; fruits are small, fleshy, egg-shaped, pink to red with silver scales. Autumn olive tends to invade open and forested natural areas, as well as roadsides and agricultural fields.

Control

Mechanical: Pull seedlings. Cutting, mowing and burning not recommended because plants will resprout unless followed up with chemical control.

Chemical: Treat foliage, cut surface or girdled stem with glyphosate, triclopyr ester, or metsulfuron-methyl with a surfactant. Basal bark application of triclopyr ester can also be effective.

Photos

View Russian olive pictures in our photo gallery.

Resources

Sources for content:
  • Czarapata, Elizabeth; Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest: an illustrated guide to their identification and control. University of Wisconsin Press. 2005. Pg. 90
  • Colorado State Parks. Best Management Practices Weed Profile: Russian olive.
  • Muzika, Rose-Marie and Jil M. Swearingen. Plant Conservation Alliance, Alien Plant Working Group. Least Wanted: Russian olive [exit DNR]. Last revised July 7, 2009.
Links for more information: