Elaeagnus umbellata - Thunb.
Other Common Names: autumn olive
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb. (TSN 27776)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.145344
Element Code: PDELG01060
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Flowering Plants - Other flowering plants
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Anthophyta Dicotyledoneae Proteales Elaeagnaceae Elaeagnus
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Concept Reference Code: B94KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Elaeagnus umbellata
Taxonomic Comments: In North America, only var. parvifolia of the species Elaeagnus umbellata is established as an exotic outside cultivation (Kartesz, 1994 checklist).
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: GNR
Global Status Last Reviewed: 22Mar1994
Global Status Last Changed: 22Mar1994
Rounded Global Status: GNR - Not Yet Ranked
Nation: United States
National Status: NNA
Nation: Canada
National Status: NNA (02Nov2017)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (SNA), Connecticut (SNA), Delaware (SNA), District of Columbia (SNA), Florida (SNA), Georgia (SNR), Hawaii (SNA), Illinois (SNA), Indiana (SNA), Iowa (SNA), Kentucky (SNA), Louisiana (SNA), Maine (SNA), Maryland (SNA), Massachusetts (SNR), Michigan (SNA), Mississippi (SNA), Missouri (SNA), New Hampshire (SNA), New Jersey (SNA), New York (SNA), North Carolina (SNA), Ohio (SNA), Pennsylvania (SNA), Rhode Island (SNA), South Carolina (SNA), Tennessee (SNA), Vermont (SNA), Virginia (SNA), West Virginia (SNA)
Canada British Columbia (SNA), New Brunswick (SNA), Nova Scotia (SNA), Ontario (SNA)

Other Statuses

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: Elaeagnus umbellata is native to China, Korea and Japan and was introduced to the United States for cultivation in 1830 (Rehder 1940). It occurs from Maine to New Jersey and Pennsylvania (Fernald 1950) and west to Wisconsin, Illinois, and Missouri (Holtz 1981).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Global Range: Elaeagnus umbellata is native to China, Korea and Japan and was introduced to the United States for cultivation in 1830 (Rehder 1940). It occurs from Maine to New Jersey and Pennsylvania (Fernald 1950) and west to Wisconsin, Illinois, and Missouri (Holtz 1981).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
NOTE: The distribution shown may be incomplete, particularly for some rapidly spreading exotic species.

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States ALexotic, CTexotic, DCexotic, DEexotic, FLexotic, GA, HIexotic, IAexotic, ILexotic, INexotic, KYexotic, LAexotic, MA, MDexotic, MEexotic, MIexotic, MOexotic, MSexotic, NCexotic, NHexotic, NJexotic, NYexotic, OHexotic, PAexotic, RIexotic, SCexotic, TNexotic, VAexotic, VTexotic, WVexotic
Canada BCexotic, NBexotic, NSexotic, ONexotic

Range Map
No map available.

Ecology & Life History
Basic Description: Elaeagnus umbellata is a shrub or small tree with alternate, petioled leaves in small lateral clusters on twigs of the current year.
Technical Description: The leaves are lanceolate, entire, dark green on top and covered with silvery-white scales on the underside. The flowers are axillary, pedicellate and perfect with four deciduous sepals and four stamens. They are ascending, slender-tubed campanulate flowers with the calyx-tube much longer than the lobes. The fruit is a drupe 6-8 mm long, reddish or pink and juicy on pecidels about 1 cm long (Fernald 1950).
Ecology Comments: Elaeagnus umbellata is one of the earlier shrubs to break dormancy, putting out foliage in mid-March in southern Illinois and advancing north with the season about 100 miles per week (Sternberg 1982). It grows rapidly, producing fruits in 3-5 years. Anthesis occurs after first leaves are out from May to June. Flowers are fragrant and pollinated by a variety of insects (Holtz 1981). The drupes are silvery with brown scales when immature, ripening to a speckled red in September-October. Most fruits are eaten by birds or fall to the ground by early winter (Sternberg 1982). E. umbellata produces a large amount of seed, each tree producing 2-8 lbs. of seed per year and the number of seeds per lb. ranging from 20,000-54,000. The seeds are widely distributed by birds and have a high rate of germination (Holtz 1981). Cold stratification is required to break embryo dormancy (Holtz 1981). The effect of stratification by passing through a bird's digestive tract has apparently not been reported.
Habitat Comments: Elaeagnus umbellata grows well on a variety of soils including sandy, loamy, and somewhat clayey textures with a pH range of 4.8-6.5 (Holtz 1981). It apparently does not grow as well on very wet or dry sites (Allan and Steiner 1965), but Sharp (1977) described it as having excellent tolerance to drought. It does very well on infertile soils because its root nodules house nitrogen-fixing actinomycetes (Sternberg 1982). Mature trees tolerate light shade, but produce more fruits in full sun, and seedlings may be shade intolerant (Holtz 1981, Nestleroad et al. 1984).
Economic Attributes
Economic Comments: Elaeagnus umbellata has been planted in the eastern and central United States for revegetation of strip mines and other disturbed areas, as an ornamental shrub, as wildlife cover, and less so as a nectar source for honeybees, a potential biomass energy crop, and food for human consumption.
Management Summary
Stewardship Overview: Elaeagnus umbellata is planted in some states for wildlife cover. It invades disturbed areas adjacent to the plantings where encroachment can be rapid due to the high production of seeds, high germination rate, and hardiness of the plants. It also resprouts quickly after burning or cutting. Repeating cutting or burning may prevent spread, but may need to be conducted for many years, as resprouting will occur. Herbicides offer more effective control, and glyphosate is commonly painted on stumps after cutting in a 10-20% dilution in late August or September. Foliar sprays of glyphosate and dicamba may be effective but will damage other vegetation under the olive. Basal applications of triclopyr alone or in combination with 2,4-D applied in March (dormant season) will also provide effective control.
Species Impacts: Elaeagnus umbellata has the potential of becoming one of the most troublesome adventive shrubs in the central and eastern United States (Sternberg 1982). It exhibits prolific fruiting, rapid growth, is widely disseminated by birds, and can easily adapt to many sites. It is vigorous and competitive against native species, and resprouts after cutting (Nestleroad et al. 1984). Due to its nitrogen-fixing capabilities, it has the capacity to adversely affect the nitrogen cycle of native communities that may depend on infertile soils. E. umbellata is just beginning to be recognized as a potentially serious problem exotic. Seeds are still distributed for wildlife plantings in some states such as Missouri, although the state conservation department is working to stop distribution (Kurz pers. comm.).
Management Requirements: Elaeagnus umbellata seems to be a problem only in locations where small stands or rows were planted, usually within the last 10-20 years, and have begun to spread into adjacent fields or natural areas. It apparently can become troublesome where it occurs on or next to prairies with infrequent prescribed burns because it resprouts quickly after fire damage or cutting.

Since burning and cutting stimulate resprouting, herbicide treatment may be necessary to eradicate large patches. One method of application is to cut the plant off at the main stem and paint the herbicide on the stump. Glyphosate is effective and commonly used. Kurz (pers. comm.) and Nyboer (pers. comm.) recommended a 10-20% dilution for painting on stumps. Foliar applications may be adequate for small patches; the recommended dilution of glyphosate in this case is a 1-2% solution. Kurz (pers. comm.) stated that the best time for herbicide application is in late August or September when the plant is actively translocating materials to the roots.

Kuhns (1986) reported that March dormant season basal applications (stem injections) of triclopyr alone or in combination with 2,4-D provided excellent control of autumn olive at very low concentrations (down to 1% triclopyr in diesel oil). The lowest concentrations of triclopyr and all treatments with the 2,4- D/triclopyr combinations provided slower kills than higher concentrations of triclopyr alone, but only one of the treatment plants were expected to survive (Kuhns 1986). Foliar applications of 2,4-D, triclopyr or metsulfuron methyl in late May or June at recommended rates did not provide adequate control, and even plants that were severely injured recovered the following year. Dicamba applied in late June at 4 lbs/gal (2 qts/100 gal/acre) with a surfactant provided 90% total kill and severely retarded the growth of surviving stems the following year (Kuhns 1986). Glyphosate was not included in this study.

Ohlenbusch and Ritty (1979) reported excellent results for the control of russian olive (E. angustifolia) in Kansas using a variety of herbicides and treatments. Applications were made on June 14 and results evaluated in late August. Foliar applications of 2,4,5-T, silvex, dicamba, picloram, and glyphosate, all in a 90% water/10% diesel oil carrier, resulted in total root kill. However, glyphosate in both 1% and 2% solutions damaged herbaceous plants under the trees so extensively that foliar application of this chemical is not recommended.

Basal application of 2,4,5-T, silvex, and triclopyr, all mixed in diesel oil and applied June 14, also resulted in 100% control. A second study by the same authors indicated that diesel oil alone also provides highly effective basal control of E. angustifolia (Ohlenbusch and Ritty 1979).

Monitoring Requirements: Occurrences, especially those adjacent to or on natural areas, should be monitored to help substantiate the need for classification of autumn olive as a noxious weed where necessary. Planted stands near natural areas should be monitored to check their expansion.

Management Programs: Elaeagnus umbellata is not a problem on many preserve lands. It occurs on some state managed natural ares in Illinois and Missouri where management has implemented control programs consisting of herbicide application. Contact: Don Kurz, Natural History Section, Missouri Conservation Dept., P.O. 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102 and Randy Nyboer, Illinois Dept. of Conservation, 2612 Locust St., Sterling, IL 61081.
Management Research Needs: Elaeagnus umbellata is not a priority species for research. There are some indications that its abundance may be increasing, both by continued planting and by seed dispersal from naturalized populations (see Nestleroad et al. 1984 and Sternberg 1982) but little data is available on population dynamics within its range. Questions for consideration include: how well does E. umbellata compete with and displace native vegetation? What is the affect on growth and reproduction of repeated burning over several years?
Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank)
Disclaimer: While I-Rank information is available over NatureServe Explorer, NatureServe is not actively developing or maintaining these data. Species with I-RANKs do not represent a random sample of species exotic in the United States; available assessments may be biased toward those species with higher-than-average impact.

I-Rank: High
Rounded I-Rank: High
I-Rank Reasons Summary: Elaeagnus umbellata is reported to alter ecosystem processes by fixing nitrogen in the soil (Sather and Eckhart 1987). It also alters community structure and composition by creating dense thickets and shading other species (Sather and Eckhart 1987; Munger 2003). It invades prairies, savannas, and wetlands (Sather and Eckhart 1987; Szafoni 1991). E. umbellata is on the West Virginia noxious weed list (USDA-NRCS 2004) and reported as invasive throughout the Southeast (Miller 2003). This fast-spreading shrub was once a popular ornamental and is still planted for wildlife and soil stabilization projects (Sather and Eckhart 1987). It can be controlled with a combination of cutting and herbicide treatment, but control requires a five-year time commitment (Szafoni 1991).
Subrank I - Ecological Impact: High
Subrank II - Current Distribution/Abundance: High
Subrank III - Trend in Distribution/Abundance: High/Medium
Subrank IV - Management Difficulty: Low
I-Rank Review Date: 17Feb2004
Evaluator: Heffernan, K.
Native anywhere in the U.S?
Native Range: Asia (Randall 2004)

Download "An Invasive Species Assessment Protocol: Evaluating Non-Native Plants for their Impact on Biodiversity". (PDF, 1.03MB)
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Screening Questions

S-1. Established outside cultivation as a non-native? YES
Comments: Spread by seed dispersed by birds (Sather and Eckhart 1987; Munger 2003).

S-2. Present in conservation areas or other native species habitat? Yes
Comments: Can be found in a varity of habitats (Sather and Eckhart 1987) , including praires, open woodlands (Munger 2003), and wet meadows (Heffernan, pers. obs. 2004).

Subrank I - Ecological Impact: High

1. Impact on Ecosystem Processes and System-wide Parameters:High significance
Comments: Nitrogen-fixing symbiotic fungus in root nodules (Sather and Eckhart 1987); Increases growth of other species (Munger 2003).

2. Impact on Ecological Community Structure:Medium/Low significance
Comments: Creates dense thickets (Munger 2003).

3. Impact on Ecological Community Composition:High significance
Comments: Suppresses ground-layer plants (Sather and Eckhart 1987; Munger 2003).

4. Impact on Individual Native Plant or Animal Species:Insignificant
Comments: No reports of impacts on individual species.

5. Conservation Significance of the Communities and Native Species Threatened:High significance
Comments: Prairies, savanas, wet meadows (Sather and Eckhart 1987; Szafoni 1991; Heffernan, per. obs.).

Subrank II. Current Distribution and Abundance: High

6. Current Range Size in Nation:Moderate significance
Comments: All states east of the Mississippi (except Indiana), plus Kansas and Nebraska (Kartesz and Meacham 1999).

7. Proportion of Current Range Where the Species is Negatively Impacting Biodiversity:High significance
Comments: Listed as a noxious weed in West Virginia (USDA-NRCS 2004), invasive in the southeast (Miller 2003), CT (Merhoff et al. 2003), OH (ODNR 2001)

8. Proportion of Nation's Biogeographic Units Invaded:High significance
Comments: Approximately 20 TNC ecoregions. (Heffernan, pers. obs., using USDA-NRCS 2004; Slaats 1999).

9. Diversity of Habitats or Ecological Systems Invaded in Nation:High significance
Comments: Prairies, open woodlands, forest edges (Sather and Eckhart 1987; Szafoni 1991), "small ravines in early successional phase" (Munger 2003) wet meadow (Heffernan, pers. obs.).

Subrank III. Trend in Distribution and Abundance: High/Medium

10. Current Trend in Total Range within Nation:Moderate significance
Comments: Trend in herbarium specimens more recent in states comprising western range (Kartesz 1999).

11. Proportion of Potential Range Currently Occupied:Unknown
Comments: Insufficient data.

12. Long-distance Dispersal Potential within Nation:High significance
Comments: Bird-dispersed seed (Sather and Eckhart 1987; Munger 2003).

13. Local Range Expansion or Change in Abundance:Unknown
Comments: Insufficient data.

14. Inherent Ability to Invade Conservation Areas and Other Native Species Habitats:Low significance
Comments: Seems to be a problem only at sites adjacent to plantings (Sather and Eckhart 1987; Munger 2003).

15. Similar Habitats Invaded Elsewhere:High significance
Comments: A variety of habitats in Canada (Munger 2003).

16. Reproductive Characteristics:High significance
Comments: Copious seed, rapid maturity, resprouting (Sather and Eckhart 1987; Munger 2003).

Subrank IV. General Management Difficulty: Low

17. General Management Difficulty:Moderate significance
Comments: Seed bank; repeated treatments necessary (Sather and Eckhart 1987; Szafoni 1991; Munger 2003).

18. Minimum Time Commitment:Low significance
Comments: Glyphosate herbicide with cut-stump method (Sather and Eckhart 1987; Szafoni 1991; Munger 2003).

19. Impacts of Management on Native Species:Insignificant
Comments: Minimal negative impacts on non-target species (Szafoni 1991).

20. Accessibility of Invaded Areas:Insignificant
Comments: Not identified as an issue in referenced literature (Sather and Eckhart 1987; Szafoni 1991; Munger 2003).
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 28Aug1987
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Nancy Eckardt
Management Information Edition Date: 28Aug1987
Management Information Edition Author: Nancy Eckardt
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 08May1987
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): N. SATHER

Botanical data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs), The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

  • Allan, P., and W. Steiner. 1965. Autumn olive for wildlife and other conservation uses. U.S.D.A. Leaflet 458. (From citation in Holtz 1981.)

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  • Holtz, S. L. 1981. Elaeagnus umbellata. Literature review. Unpublished.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist and atlas with biological attributes for the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. First edition. In: Kartesz, J.T., and C.A. Meacham. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill, N.C.

  • Kuhns, L. J. 1986. Controlling autumn olive with herbicides. Proc. 40th Ann. Meet. N. E. Weed Sci. Soc. Pp. 289-294.

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  • Miller, J.H. 2003. Nonnative Invasive Plants of Southern Forests: A field guide for identification and control. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-62. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 93 pp.

  • Munger, G.T. 2003. Elaeagnus umbellata. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/shrub/elaumb/all.html (accessed February 2004).

  • Nestleroad, J., U. D. Zimmerman, and J. E. Ebinger. 1984. Autumn olive reproduction in three Illinois state parks. Unpublished.

  • Ohlenbusch, P., and P. Ritty. 1979. Russian olive control- A preliminary look. Proc. NCWCC V. 33: 132.

  • Oldham, M.J., W.G. Stewart, and D. McLeod. 1993. Additions to "A Guide to the Flora of Elgin County, Ontario" for 1992.  The Cardinal No. 151: 18-20.

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  • Rehder, A. 1940. Manual of Cultivate Trees and Shrubs. 2nd. Ed. N. Y. MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc.

  • Sather, N. and N. Eckardt. 1987. Element stewardship abstract: Elaeagnus umbellata. The Nature Conservancy. Available at http://tncweeds.ucdavis.edu/esadocs/documnts/elaeumb.pdf (accessed February 2004). 4 p.

  • Sharp, W. 1977. Conservation Plants for the Northeast. U.S.D.A. Soil Conservation Service Publication. (From citation in Holtz 1981, U81HOL01HQUS.)

  • Slaats, J. 1999. TNC ecoregions and divisions map. Available at http://gis.tnc.org/data/MapbookWebsite/map_page.php?map_id=9 (accessed February 2004).

  • Sternberg, G. 1982. Autumn olive in Illinois conservation practice. Prelim. Report. Ill. Dept. of Conservation.

  • Swink, F., and G. Wilhelm. 1994. Plants of the Chicago Region. Morton Arboretum. Lisle, Illinois.

  • Szafoni, R.E. 1991. Vegetation management guideline: Autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb. Natural Areas Jounal 11(2): 121-122.

  • USDA, NRCS. 2004. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 (http://plants.usda.gov) . National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

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