Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) – Ecological Profile

Written by: Lauren Nihda, Matthew Holland and Ethan Abeele

Historical Profile: 

          Similar species to the Autumn Olive are the Russian Olive, Buffalo Berry, and Bush Honeysuckle. Based on early reports of the species it was brought over to North America/United States by early settlers in the 1830’s as a source of food, medicine, wildlife habitat, ornamental use, and windbreaks. Autumn Olive is found from Maine to Virginia and as far west as Wisconsin. Due to its atmospheric nitrogen fixation through its roots and high success rate in low nutrient soils it was specifically used on sandy slopes of bridges and roadways to prevent soil erosion. The Autumn Olive is also known as the Autumn Berry because of the berries it produces turning into berries with silver specs when ripe. Aki-Gumi as it’s known in Japan translates to the Autumn silver berry, it grows to 20 feet tall in north America however it can grow to 30 feet tall in parts that it originated from like Japan, India and other Parts of the Himalayas. Due to the hardiness and rapid reproduction rate the species quickly began spreading uncontrollably, the plant was listed as invasive within Ontario and efforts to reduce population size have failed (Sternberg & West, 2017).

Distribution: Elaeagnus umbellata, also known as autumn olive, is a deciduous shrub that originates from East Asia, specifically spanning from the Himalayas to Japan (Walker, 2012). The plant was purposely introduced to North America and Australia but soon after fell into the noxious or invasive species categories depending on state and province. In Canada, autumn olive is only listed as invasive within Ontario (, 2007).

Habitat: The autumn olive is both extremely resilient and resistant to a wide range of growing conditions and can establish itself in meadows, pastures, forest edges, sparse forests, road sides and previously disturbed areas (, 2007). The plant grows best in well drained sandy soils but can also survive a wide range of soil and moisture conditions.  Autumn olive plants do well up to plant hardiness zone 3 but can tolerate slightly cooler growing spaces. The autumn olive is a moderately shade tolerant species which allows it to survive as an understory plant though full sun is ideal. The possibility of it spreading over to western Canada is an issue due to the autumn olives preference for open grasslands. They are denser in areas of less canopy cover which has been found to be a good way to help regulate them along roadsides (Global invasive species database, 2005).


Figure 1 : Global distribution of the autumn olive. It originated in Asia but in 1830 it was transported to the United states where it then spread up into Ontario. (Base map-


Figure 2:  Map of ideal growing areas in  Ontario for autumn olive

Reproductive Strategy: The autumn olive can produce up to 200,000 seeds every year through small edible berries (Walker, B 2012). They normally bear fruit during September-October and once the seeds are dispersed, the plant will take between two to six years to begin reproducing. Their mass offspring production and rapid growth rate classifies them as an r-strategist species The autumn olive is pollinated through insects since their male and female counterparts are separate.

Table 1:  Autumn olive’s characteristics compared to that of k and r-strategist. 

Characteristic r-strategist k-strategist Autumn Olive
Mortality Variable and unpredictable More often constant and predictable Constant
Lifespan Short Long Long roughly 30-40 years
Seedlings produced large Small Large quantity of fruit bared each year
Parental care Very little to none Necessity None
Frequency of reproduction Once or more within a small timeframe Will reproduce on multiple occasions but over a prolonged period of time Will reproduce after 3 year growing period then annually every September-October
Additional factors Generally mature individuals have success in reproduction Mature individuals sometimes will reproduce successfully Even if they are cut or burned they will grow back vigorously allowing them to continue reproducing

Survivorship: The autumn olive has a high survival rate in the locations that it grows. It is very tolerant to multiple soil conditions and is even moderately shade tolerant allowing it to grow in understory if necessary. They have a Type 1 survivorship curve since they are able to survive through early to midlife but do not survive to old age. Their ability to die off is more linked towards their age rather than their surroundings since if they are damaged they grow back immensely. Autumn Olive does not care for their young and produce a lot of offspring but have a very low mortality rate during the early to midway point of their life. They produce tens of thousands of offspring that have low mortality rates of 10%-30% based off conditions around them.

Dispersal/ Vectors: The autumn olive has become a quickly spreading pest because of its multiple methods or reproduction. The plants produce seeds encased in small edible berries every year which are dispersed through birds, mammals and seed droppings. Along with the plant’s rapid seed dispersal rate, severed branches can also grow roots and become new plants. It has quickly spread across North America due to its rapid dispersal strategies (Walker, B 2012).  

Special Considerations: The autumn olive can reproduce from forest fires which makes it very hard to control. Forest fires are used to help regulate forest growth and help certain species reproduce but this species will not die and will instead thrive from the fire. Most natural process that might control the autumn olive are ineffective which means human intervention is often required in order to reduce infestation.

The fruit contains extremely powerful antioxidant properties including 40-70g of lycopene per 100g serving making it one of the world’s most powerful antioxidants (Black, B 2007). The berries can be used for a wide range of recipes including jams, fruit lathers and wines.

Ecological Connections:

The ability to control this species when it has been put in an environment has been very unsuccessful. Autumn Olive has been planted in too many locations where it has been able to grow in the open resulting in a mass amount of them spreading across the area. Even methods such as creating a canopy layer atop them has been proven ineffective because they are also moderately shade tolerant. They are very much ‘r’ strategist because even my taking one out if it is not ripped from the ground it will grow back vigorously. From the way that they reproduce it makes them very effective in taking over an area because animals will spread the seeds all over from their droppings. Even when put under harsh conditions of Ontario winters and forest fires they have proven resilient in the face of them.  Berries of Autumn Olive persist on the branches into winter and provide a steady food supply for birds and small mammals when other sources of sustenance are less abundant(Darlington and Loyed, 1994 and Fowler and Fowler, 1987). Animals have been known to prefer the berries from this to others in areas where the Autumn Olive is found because of their taste. Humans took them from Asia and planted them in areas with lots of open area to grow with direct sunlight. Creating optimal conditions for them to spread across the area. People in North America wanted something nice on their property that also attracted wildlife witch made this species popular. To their lack of knowledge, the tree ended up taking over most of the land around when uncontrolled. This made it harder for other species to grow in the area dominated by the Autumn Olive.

Critical Assessment and Management Options:

        Autumn Olive has been taking over the majority of the landscapes that it has been planted in since their introduction. The ability to predict when and where this species will become a problem would allow management to more effectively prioritize control efforts and implement the most efficient management practices available (Matthew R. Moore 2013). With regards to the control of this plant there are 3 options available. The options consist of, chemical control, removal control, shade control. These methods will be explained in the following paragraphs.

        Options such as chemical removal, is a very costly method of controlling the plants along with harmful to the area around the plants. The chemicals would be applied to the tree in order to kill it without it being able to repopulate during the process. This method would be very effective on killing the tree but it could have some adverse affects on the surrounding wildlife. Since a variety of animals and birds consume the berries it is possible that they could ingest the poison if it were to get on the berries. In order to prevent occurrences like that the chemical removal method would have to be done in the spring and summer seasons before berries grow in through the fall and persist through winter. Otherwise the chemicals could end up harming the wildlife around the tree. Along with that the price of the chemicals is not cheap, since the chemicals being used for the removal.  The plant can be cut with a chainsaw, hand saw, or brush mower. A formulation of glyphosate, in a 20-50 percent solution, is then applied immediately to the cut stump surface by using a low pressure hand held sprayer. This type of treatment has proved effective in killing the root system and preventing resprouting when applied late in the growing season (Jackson, 2017). This method is much safer for the species around the plant if done this way since there is lower risk of contact with the chemicals.

        Another possible way to remove the plant is through uprooting it physically. Doing so would have to be done in different ways depending on the size of the tree. The size of the tree would dictate if you would need larger instruments to pull/dig it up from the ground as well as if it needs to be chopped down first before so. For instance if it was around 7ft tall it would be better to level it down first with a chainsaw before the initial uprooting of the tree itself. The tree could not just be cut down since it will splinter outward with shoots to rapidly to replace what it had lost. That is why the roots must be dealt with if you are not using chemicals as a form of removal. The cost of this will depend on the sizes of the trees themselves as stated before equipment and labour wise. Knowing that it would not be as expensive as the chemical process itself, but it is definitely more lengthy and harder to do. This method is one that is not as effective for that reason but the full removal of it ensures that there will be nothing left to grow.

        The last way to control Autumn Olive is through shade. Though this process does not directly remove the tree itself it has been tested to reduce the spread of the trees. Making them stay in close quarters of one another. Sites where autumn olive was present were found most often on primary roads with an average road canopy closure of about 50%. Autumn olive was encountered least on secondary and tertiary roads and where road canopy closure averaged 65%. (Moore, 2013). After some experiments it was found that Autumn Olive spread less in areas where there was canopy cover compared to open space. They predominantly grew around 5-10m away from the mother tree than that of open areas. Though the species still will spread it will be more contained and managed better under shade compared to that of direct sunlight. After two growing seasons, 61% of the forest understory contained AO, an increase of 26%. (Dornbos, 2016). Though numbers escalated during tests on the difference in growth rate the overall number was less than half of what was found in an open environment. Therefore this method is one that does not directly help to remove the Autumn Olive, but rather slow down their reproduction rates.

Table 2: In this table you can see the different management options with the factors that are involved in each of them.




David R. Jackson. 2017. Autumn Olive.Penn State University. Available to public Online:


Dornbos, J. L., Martzke, M. R., Gries, K., & Hesselink, R. (2016). Physiological competitiveness of autumn olive compared with native woody competitors in open field and forest understory. Forest Ecology And Management, 372101-108. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2016.03.051


Michigan Department of Natural Resources. (2012). Invasive species-best control practices Autumn Olive. Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Online references: found at-


Moore, M. R., Buckley, D. S., Klingeman, I. E., & Saxton, A. M. (2013). Distribution and growth of autumn olive in a managed forest landscape. Forest Ecology And Management, 310589-599. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2013.08.056


Global invasive species database ‘Autumn Olives’ (2005) Retrieved from: (2016) Retrieved from:

Black, B ‘Autumn Olive, Weed or new Cash Crop?’  (2007) Retrieved from:

Walker, B ‘The Views of Autumn Olives’ Dave’s Garden (2012) Retrieved from:



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