The Invasive Autumn Olive - A Green Committee Sponsored Activity

Andy Sale, Bernie Smith, Nat Kirkland, Galen Moses, Cindy Westley worked on invasive Autumn olive on the golf course in August. The group cut the shrubs and applied herbicide. Sunnyside Building and Grounds followed and disposed of the plants. There will be future opportunities to work on this until all are eliminated. The main aim was to get ahead of the ripe seeds along the waterways.

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) is a deciduous shrub native to Asia that has spread as an invasive species throughout the United States. Introduced in 1830 as an ornamental plant that could provide habitat and food to wildlife, Autumn olive was widely planted by the Soil Conservation Service as erosion control near roads and on ridges.

It is now a major hassle. Autumn olive can grow 20 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Its leaves are elliptically shaped and can be distinguished from other similar shrubs by the shimmery look of the silver scales found on its lower leaf surface. Autumn olive’s bell-shaped flowers are a cream or pale yellow color and bloom in early spring. They bring on red berries dotted with silver scales.

Autumn olive is a problem because it outcompetes and displaces native plants. It does this by shading them out and by changing the chemistry of the soil around it, a process called allelopathy. Autumn olive’s nitrogen-fixing root nodules allow the plant to grow in even the most unfavorable soils. Once it takes root, it is a prolific seed producer, creating 200,000 seeds from a single plant each year. Through fruit, birds will spread these seeds far and wide throughout pastures, along roadsides and near fences.

--By Cindy Westley