Plant of the Week- Elaeagnus umbellata or Autumn Olive
Autumn Olive is a deciduous shrub native to Asia. Growing to 8′-10′ in our climate, in the wild it can reach 20′ or more. This shrub has silvery foliage, small cream colored flowers, and fall fruit of bright red (or sometimes golden berries. In the Pacific Northwest, this nitrogen fixing shrub is well mannered and very easy to grow, rarely self seeding. In other parts of the country, it has become an invasive shrub, out-competing native understory plants.
The genus Elaeagnus is a large one, and all of the genus can fix nitrogen from the air. This allows them to grow on nutrient poor soils, and as a part of food forest systems, they can actually provide nitrogen to surrounding plants.
The flowers of Autumn Olive are very prolific, fragrant, and extremely attractive to bees and other pollinators. The flowers are so attractive, in fact, that is not a good idea to plant them in apple orchards- the apples’ bloom time overlaps with autumn olive, and bees prefer the autumn olive to the apple blossoms. Earlier blooming fruit trees such as plums and pears would not face the competition.
If two varieties of autumn olive are planted, in the fall you will get red (or sometimes golden) berries. These berries are quite sweet, and slightly astringent. They are good dried, and very high lycopene, containing as much as 17 times the lycopene found in tomatoes.
Another member of the Elaeagnus genus is goumi, or Elaeagnus multiflora. Goumi differs from autumn olive in its harvest season, becoming ripe in mid-summer. The goumi berries are also sweet and astringent, and high in antioxidents. Like the autumn olive, goumi has become naturalized in parts of the midwest and northeast. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it rarely self seed. It is also a nitrogen fixing plant, and can grow in poor soil.