Thursday, October 28, 2010

Autumn Olives - Eat 'em!

by Donna L. Watkins

If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em! The berries of this plant ripen in late October, so it's a great time to make Autumn Olive jam.

Most Autumn Olives are an invasive species that exhibit prolific fruiting and rapid growth. This is unfortunate because they displace native flora. They form large stands of tree-like bushes and inhibit habitat diversity.

© 2004 Donna L. Watkins
Autumn Olives a Year of Growth
As a nitrogen fixer, it can also alter nutrient cycle dynamics and change soil suitability for other shrub species. They are vigorous and outgrow most other plants and will even resprout after cutting or burning them out. The heavy shade produced by large stands of these bushes suppress plants that require direct sunlight.

Unknowingly we chose this bush to plant as a privacy hedge alongside our screened porch in 2003. They grew quickly and as you can see from the photo, they send up tall shoots that need to be pruned unless you want a wild look. Fortunately, the place we purchased them at didn't sell the invasive species of this plant.

And invasive it is ... so could eating them be an approach to controlling this invasive species? Maybe not, but autumn olive berries are good to eat, and really good for you! They have way more lycopene than tomatoes, and fruit leather and jam can be made from them. The health benefits are many.

To learn more about using the berries from Autumn Olives for fruit leather, check out these blog posts:
Fruit Leather
Fruit Leather Two
Fruit Leather Three

The Autumn olive, (Elaeagnus umbellata), was introduced from Asia where it is native to China, Korea, and Japan; and known at least since the first half of the 19th century. It grows as a shrub or small tree, and is in the Oleaster family. It can grow up to 20 feet. This plant was originally brought to the United States to reforest areas with severe erosion, for reclamation projects, and to attract wildlife. Now it grows from Maine south to Virginia, and west to Wisconsin and has nitrogen-fixing root nodules allowing it to grow in very poor soil where it tolerates severe drought. We had it on our property in Alabama, placed by our builder who was with the Forestry Department, so they may have been using it there back in the 80's.

Knowing how well it did there and at our screened porch without any attention, we were interested in it as a border plant for our property lines since they had begun development in an area near the rear of our property and had taken out 50 feet of a neighbor's tree.  We wanted a visual reminder of where our property began, but we now knew about the invasive quality.

© 2008 Donna L. Watkins
Autumn Olives Four Years Later Than Above
As you can see from this photo in 2008 of the ones we put at our screened porch, they grow very fast and full.

The big sell was that is truly a carefree plant. The only thing needed is pruning if you don't want a wild look. Since our first bushes had been in for almost 6 years we realized they weren't producing any berries, so there is one species that does not produce fruit to spread. The species we purchased is Elaeagnus fruitlandii.  We bought 38 of these bushes from Southern States in Charlottesville to border our property behind the house, an area where they can pretty much grow wild as they like.

I might add that Southern States is our premium choice of plant materials for the reasonable prices and the quality of the stock.  Nothing ever dies and a big reason why is that they get stock from nearby nurseries so the change in climate, etc. is not such a shock to the plant.  They're obviously interested in not selling invasive species also.

They may sell only the male species of the plant since I have heard that the female is the one that produces berries. I am not certain of that, but we've had our bushes for 6 years and I've never seen one fruit on them. They do produce an abundance of flowers with such an exotic wonderful smell in the Fall, that I will sit on the porch bundled up on a cold day just to soak in the fragrance.

The important thing is to NOT plant any invasive species. Our country is spending millions of dollars trying to control these since they are doing a lot of damage for many reasons. Check out the government site for invasive species.

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The photo(s) and article are copyrighted. You may use either of them if you include the following credit and active link back to this website: © 2010 Donna L. Watkins - This article was reprinted with permission from The link to use is:

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