Russian olive

Elaeagnus angustifolia

Images of this species:

Common look-alikes:



Elaeagnus angustifolia is a shrub or small tree that can grow to 35 feet tall. The young branches are silvery while the older branches are brown. They are occasionally thorny and covered with scales.


The leaves are simple, alternate and lanceolate to oblong-lanceolate. They are 1-4 inches long and have silver scales on both sides.


The fragrant flowers are 0.5-0.6 inches wide, silvery outside and yellow within. There are 1-3 flowers within the leaf axils. They appear in May to June.


The fruit are 0.4 inches long, are yellow and almost completely covered by densely silver scales. The fruit contain one large seed that can be up to 0.4 inches long within.



These shrubs are highly competitive against native species, shading out shorter plants. Their nitrogen-fixing capabilities may adversely affect the nitrogen cycle of native communities that depend on infertile soils. Although Russian and autumn olive provide a plentiful source of berries for birds, their fruits are actually quite low in nutrients. Ecologists have found that bird species richness is higher in riparian areas dominated by native vegetation.


Both Russian and autumn olive were introduced into the United States in the 1800s. Prized for their silvery foliage, hardiness and plentiful berries, these shrubs were planted as ornamentals, for erosion control and windbreaks, and in wildlife food plots.


Forest, forest edge, meadows, fields, disturbed areas


Small yellow or white flowers become edible fruits in late summer and fall, which are red in autumn olive and orange in Russian olive.

Management Options

This is considered a watch list species


Young seedlings can be pulled by hand when the soil is moist enough to ensure complete removal of the root system. Small saplings can be pulled sufficiently with a wrenching tool. Larger individuals can be cut at ground level or girdled. Cutting is an initial control measure and should be followed by another type of treatment and monitoring.


  • Be careful not to damage or kill nearby native plants when conducting management work.
  • Always read and follow pesticide label directions. Application of pesticides may require a certification from the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. The Agency website provides information on what applicator certification is needed.

Use a systemic herbicide, such as glyphosate or triclopyr. Herbicide should be applied immediately to cut stumps to prevent regeneration. It can also be applied to girdle wounds or directly to the lower bark using the basal bark method. Large thickets, where risk to non-target species is minimal, can be controlled by the foliar spray method.