Photographer: Chris Evans Affiliation: Illinois Wildlife Action Plan Source:www.bugwood.org Copyright: CC BY-NC 3.0
Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) can be a small shrub or tree depending on the amount of time it has been growing undisturbed. Most commonly Russian olive is a woody shrub, but is capable of reaching heights of 20 feet. This invasive plant can be identified by silver scales that cover new stems, leaves, flowers, and fruit. Leaves alternate along the stem, are 2 to 4 inches wide, and green with a gray tint because of the silver scales. Russian olive flowers in May with small yellow flowers that appear from buds on the stems. Fruit is produced from August to October and is orange or yellow with silver scales.
Russian olive is an aggressive invasive plant that is capable of out competing native plants species by disrupting their natural nutrient cycles and depleting water reserves. With an ability to grow on bare mineral substrates, Russian olive has a unique ability to fix nitrogen within its roots allowing it to thrive in riparian zones where cottonwood trees have died. Although native bird species are known to feed on Russian olive, bird species diversity is shown to increase when native species of riparian vegetation are present.
Propagation of Russian olive typically occurs via seed, but it can also reproduce vegatatively. Many species of birds eat the seed pods and aid in further spread of Russian olive.
Russian olive was introduced to the U.S. intentionally in the 1800's as an ornamental plant. Russian olive wasn't regarded as an invasive plant with negative connotations until recently. Previously the U.S. Soil Conservation Service recommended the use of Russian olive as a wind break and wildlife planting.
Southern Europe and Western Asia
U.S. Habitat: Russian olive can grow in a variety of habitats and moisture levels. Most commonly Russian olive is found along streams in shaded areas.
U.S. Present: AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, MD, MI, MN, MT, NC, NE, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OK, OR, PA, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI
Minimal management options are available for the eradication of Russian olive. The best method is manual removal of identified plants by mowing hedges and removing remaining plant pieces. There are no known herbivorous animals or insects that feed on Russian olive enough to eradicate the plant.
Shafroth, P.R., G.T. Aubla, and M.L. Scott. 1995. Germination and establishment of the native plains cottonwood (Populus deltoides Marshall subsp. monilifera) and the exotic Russian-olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia L.). Conservation Biology 9:1169-1175.