Autumn-olive is native to eastern Asia and was introduced to the United States for ornamental cultivation in the 1800s. It now grows in most northeastern and upper Midwestern states. Since then, it has been widely planted for wildlife habitat, mine reclamation, and shelter belts.
Autumn-olive is a deciduous shrub that may reach between 3 to 20 feet in height. The shrub has alternate, elliptical leaves with a silver underside. The bark is olive drab with many white lenticels and the branches contain many thorns. 5 to 10 tubular, silver, or yellow flowers appear between February and June. During August to November, red berries mature. Autumn-olive is shade tolerant but prefers dry sites. The shrub first appears along forest edges and openings, eventually forming dense stands throughout the forest under-story.
This species produces large amounts of fruit, which are readily consumed and dispersed by birds. In New England, autumn-olive has escaped from cultivation and is progressively invading natural areas. It is a particular threat to open and semi-open areas.
Autumn-olive re-sprouts vigorously after fire or cutting. Over time, colonies of these shrubs can grow thick enough to crowd out native plants. Highway plantings of these high-fruiting species lure birds close to fast traffic, contributing to high mortality rates for some species of birds. The nitrogen-fixing capabilities of these species can interfere with the nitrogen cycle of native communities that may depend on infertile soils. Autumn-olive can tolerate poor soil conditions and may alter the processes of natural succession.
Hand pulling is acceptable for small saplings of this species, with mechanical removal and a "cut-and-dab" chemical treatment needed for larger shrubs. A weed wrench would be ideal for this type of shrub. Make sure to bag all foliage that may contain berries or flowers to prevent the spread of the plant. Foliar spray is discouraged as it can be harmful to the surrounding flora and fauna. See the invasive removal page for how to carry out these methods. Any removal within 100 feet of wetland resource areas, including certified vernal pools, or within 200 feet of a perennial stream may require approval from the Concord Natural Resources Commission. Please contact the Division of Natural Resources before you begin.
The following native plants can serve as a good replacement to Autumn olive in a garden:
- Downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
- Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)
- Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)
- Redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
- Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
- Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)