Elaeagnus umbellata

Sometimes known as the autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata is a treasured plant in my garden. Around this time each year it is covered with creamy white flowers with a very distinctive scent.

The flowers of the autumn olive are small but sweetly scented

It should produce red fruits in autumn, but mine has never done this, and I wonder why. Though if it doesn’t, this is something to be grateful for. In many parts of the USA, the shrub has proved invasive, seeding itself everywhere – rather as UK gardeners come across the butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) all over the place.

The leaves too are attractive – light green with a dusting of silver. And the shrub makes a good shape, spreading rather than upright. Mine is in a container for now, but I’ll plant it out when I find a suitable spot.

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5 Responses to “Elaeagnus umbellata”

  1. Gabriel Hemery Says:

    I have included Elaeagnus umbellata in forestry trials I’ve established in the UK where it is a fantastic ‘companion’ or ‘nurse’ plant to a timber tree species. It is particularly valuable in this role because it fixes atmospheric nitrogen and then makes this available through its roots to neighouring plants. To trees such as walnut and ash, this extra nitrogen can have dramatic and positive effect on growth. It is also valuable in that it tolerates drought and is wind-hardy: a possible future-proof species in the light of project climate change.
    It is interesting that you mention the invasive nature of the species in the US. I was told informally that there was a particular cultivar that was responsible for this. Considering that E. umbellata has been present in the UK for centuries it seems unlikely to be likely to become invasive.

  2. Andrew Mikolajski Says:

    This sounds interesting – the plant should certainly be better known in the UK. It is obviously a candidate for gardens where summer hosepipe bans are common, as it is so drought tolerant.
    As it’s now late September, I just checked mine – still no sign of any fruit, so I wonder what conditions are required for them to appear. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

  3. Gabriel Hemery Says:

    I planted trials of walnut and Elaeagnus umbellata in Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, and Sussex, and at the National Forest in Derbyshire. I believe that they have flowered and fruited at all sites. The Oxfordshire shrubs particularly have fruited prolifically. I wonder if the genetics have a role in explaining why yours haven’t fruited. If they flower then fail to fruit that might suggest poor fruit set or vulnerability to frost?

    Regarding the invasive tendencies you may want to check out this paper which is cited along with some others on my website (www.GabrielHemery.com):

    JR Clark and GE Hemery, “The use of autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb.) in British forestry,” Quarterly Journal of Forestry 100, no. 4 (2006): 285-288.

    • Andrew Mikolajski Says:

      Interesting – I am not too far away, in Northants. I’ll check out the paper you suggest, but I wonder whether the failure of mine to fruit has something to do with cultivation practices. It’s a singleton, in a container in a sheltered courtyard. Do they fruit best in the presence of their own kind? And there may be an absence of appropriate pollinators as it’s a relatively enclosed area (unlike the open part of my garden – cold and windy and where I anticipate the plant will do well)


  4. Gabriel Hemery Says:

    Thanks Andrew.

    You inspired me to write a new post:



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