invasive autumn olive shrub with creamy white flowers

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). Photo: Chris Evans, University of Illinois,

Updated: February 22, 2023

About autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

Life cycle and background

This deciduous woody plant was introduced from Asia to the United States in 1830. Autumn olive was used for ornamental gardens, windbreaks, wildlife cover, and restoration of soils degraded by deforestation and mining. It displaces native plants by creating dense shade, altering soil chemistry, and interfering with natural plant succession. The related Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) is also invasive in Maryland.

Growth habit

Fast growing and invasive. This deciduous, multi-stemmed shrub or single trunked tree can grow to 20’ or more in height. Leaves are alternate along the stems, ovate to lanceolate, with smooth margins. Silver scales are apparent on leaves, buds, and stems. Undersides of the leaves have a silvery sheen. Small, creamy yellow, aromatic flowers bloom in the spring. Produces small round reddish fruits dotted with scales.

autumn olive
Photo: Chris Evans, University of Illinois,


Produces a large amount of seeds with a high germination rate. Seeds are dispersed by birds and mammals. Regrows easily when cut.

berries of autumn olive
Photo: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,

Conditions that favor growth

Sun and partial shade. Prefers well-drained soils. Drought tolerant. Tolerates salt and soil pH as low as 4.0. Most often found in open forests, fields, and along streams and floodplains.

What to plant instead

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa), Southern wax myrtle (Morella cerifera).

Controlling autumn olive

Additional resources and references

Kaufman, Sylvan Ramsey & Wallace Kaufman. 2007. Invasive Plants: Guide to Identification and the Impacts and Control of Common North American Species.

Maryland Invasive Species Council. March 2010. Despite the Lycopene, Still a Bad Actor: Autumn Olive.

Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas

Swearingen J., K. Reshetiloff, B. Slattery, and S. Zwicker. 2002. Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas. National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Washington, DC.

Compiled by Christa Carignan, reviewed by Debra Ricigliano, University of Maryland Extension, 5/2018

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