Elaeagnus angustifolia L. - Russian Olive,Oleaster
Non-native , Occasional
By Angela Steward & Steven D. Glenn
Not peer reviewed
Last Modified 01/19/2012
Common NamesRussian Olive,Oleaster
Field IdentificationSmall tree or large shrub to 8 meters. Twigs covered in silver scales when young turning reddish-brown, usually with thorns. Leaves alternate, entire, narrowly lanceolate or oblong, densely covered with silver-grey scales below. Small yellow flowers solitary or in clusters of 2 or 3 scattered along twigs of the current year; fruits drupe-like, olive-shaped, yellow or brown, covered in silver scales.
Russian Olive was introduced into the New World for its use as a horticultural plant desired for its silver leaves and colorful berries; it may also have some value as a honey plant.
Due to its ability to adapt to a range of habitats, it is planted on highways for erosion control or for sheltering purposes. Since it is a nitrogen-fixing plant, it is commonly used in intercropping to better soil condition and increase growth yields. However, many of these practices have been curbed over its potential threat as an invasive plant.
Nomenclature*Elaeagnus angustifolia L., Sp. Pl. 121. 1753.
Elaeagnus inermis Mill., Gard. Dict. ed. 8, E. no. 2 1768.
Elaeagnus argentea Moench., Meth. Pl. 638. 1794.
Aeleagnus angustifolia Cavanilles, Descr. Pl. Lecc. Publ. 350. 1802.
Elaeagnus hortensis Bieberstein, Fl. Taur.-Cauc. 1: 112 1808.
Elaeagnus hortensis var. angustifolia Schlechtendal in De Candolle, Prodr. 14: 609. 1857.
Elaeagnus hortensis subsp. angustifolia var. typica subvar. gymnanthera Servettaz, Monog. Eleagnac. 35. 1909.
Elaeagnus angustifolia var. angustifolia Schneider, Ill. Handb. Laubh. 2: 409. 1909.
DescriptionHABIT Perennial, deciduous, phanerophytic, small tree or shrub 1-8 m tall, monoclinous, dioecious, gynodioecious or androdioecious.
STEMS Main stems ascending or erect, round. Bark gray, not exfoliating. Branches erect. Twigs gray or dark brown or brown, terete, 1-3 mm in diam., smooth, glabrous, densely covered with small brown to silvery lepidote scales across surface. Pith present, light orange-yellow or white, oval or round, continuous. Thorns present. Sap translucent.
BUDS Small, ovoid to oblong, usually solitary, scattered along stem. Bud scales about 4, exposed. Bud scale scars not encircling the stem. Leaf scars half-round with one vascular bundle scar.
LEAVES Alternate, simple, spaced somewhat evenly along stem, divergent from stem, exstipulate. Leaves petiolate, petiole terete-flattened, 0.2-.5 cm long, glabrous, densely covered with small silvery (occasionally brown)lepidote scales. Leaf blades: linear or narrow oblong or elliptic or oblong, bilaterally symmetric, 3.5-7 cm long, 0.5-2 cm wide, chartaceous, base acute or cuneate or obtuse, margin entire, apex acuminate or acute or obtuse, pinnately veined with 5-8 pairs of secondary veins. Abaxial surface silvery to silvery-green due to dense covering of small silvery (occasionally brown) lepidote scales. Adaxial surface green, usually moderately beset with small silvery (occasionally brown) lepidote scales.
INFLORESCENCES Serotinous, formed on the current season's growth, bisexual or unisexual, axillary, solitary or fascicled with 1-3 flowers. Pedicels 1-4 mm long, densely covered with silver lepidote scales.
FLOWERS Bisexual or unisexual, incomplete, 4-merous, 5-7 mm long, 3-5 mm wide, perianth of one whorl. Hypanthium tubular, actinomorphic, light yellow, abaxial surface densely covered with silver lepidote scales. Sepal lobes 4, triangular, 3-5 mm long, adnate to top of hypanthium. Corolla absent. Styles 1, 8-12 mm long, about the length of the hypanthium, glabrous; stigmas 1. Ovary superior (appearing inferior by contraction of the hypanthium tube at the base of the style), 1-locular. Placentation basal. Stamens 4, filaments glabrous, straight, short, anthers comprising up to 3/4 of the stamen. Anthers dark brown to light brown or dark orange-yellow, versatile, dehiscing entire length of anther along the long axis, glabrous.
FRUITS Light yellow or yellow, ellipsoid, 0.8-12 mm long, 0.8-12 mm wide, glabrous, covered in silver lepidote scales.
SEEDS Seeds 1, dark brown to light brown or dark orange-yellow, ellipsoid, 5-8 mm long, 5-8 mm wide, glabrous, striate, with thickened cotyledons and little or no endosperm.
HabitatCommonly found growing along floodplains, riverbanks, stream courses, marshes; also seen in upland woods and disturbed areas; shade tolerant.
United States – AZ CA, CO, CT, IA, ID, IL, KS, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MT, ND, NE, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WY
Canada - AB, BC, MB, NB, ON, QC
New York Metropolitan Region – Native of southern Europe and eastern Asia. Naturalizing in our range; not abundant. Reported in Bergen, Orange, Richmond, Kings, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk counties.
Rarity StatusHeritage global rank -- G5