How do you identify it?
The shrub has alternately arranged leaves that are simple and elongate with smooth margins. The underside of the leaves “sparkle” due to small, silver scales. These scales also appear on young stems, which are brown in color and have spines. Its white or yellow flowers are trumpet-shaped, and fruits are bright red with silver scales and a single seed.
Why is it invasive?
Autumn olive invades disturbed sites and prefers full or partial sun. The shrub can tolerate poor sites, and it affects local nutrient cycles by fixing its own nitrogen. Birds spread the seeds into forests, roadsides and disturbed areas where they the shrub can out-compete native plants.
How can you manage it?
Hand-pulling small plants can work if you remove all roots. Or you can cut the stems and apply herbicide to prevent resprouting. Basal bark applications and foliar treatments can be effective. The NC Forest Service and Pennsylvania State Extension’s webpage have detailed herbicide information. Make sure to follow all label instructions.
Invasive Species Leaflet IS-11 Elaeagnus umbellata (Autumn Olive, Spring Silverberry) (North Carolina Forest Service) Elaeagnus umbellata grows rapidly and produces fruits within three to five years with a mature shrub producing tens of thousands of seeds. The fruits are highly desirable to wildlife, which provides an effective dispersal mechanism for the seeds. In addition to its prolific fruit production, widespread seed dispersal, rapid growth and ability to adapt to many sites, E. umbellata re-sprouts vigorously after cutting or burning. These traits enable it to out-compete native plants.
Autumn Olive (Penn State Extension)
Autumn olive is well established across the mid-Atlantic due to its extensive intentional planting to provide wildlife food and revegetate mine spoils in the mid-1900s. While this shrub does produce huge amounts of berries eaten by birds and mammals and can thrive on reclaimed mine sites where pH extremes and high levels of toxic heavy metals are common, these positive attributes do not outweigh the negatives associated with this its ability to invade and take over natural areas.
Eleagnus umbellata (North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox)
This plant is problematic and alternatives should be considered. It has sharp thorns, pale white to yellow heavily fragrant flowers and vibrant edible red berries. Inside the fruits are thousands of tiny seeds that are dispersed by birds and small mammals. It threatens native species by out-competing them and interfering with natural nutrient cycling and plant succession.
Autumn Olive Factsheet (Missouri Department of Conservation)
Autumn olive is easily identified in the spring because its leaves appear while most native vegetation is still dormant. When the plant is small and the ground is moist, it may be removed by hand pulling. The most effective way to control this plant is with a combination of mechanical and chemical treatment.