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I want to briefly share my enthusiasm for an amazing group of plants that are in the genus Elaeagnus. They are called Russian Olive, Autumn Olive, and Goumi, sometimes Silverberry, but I call them all Elaeagnus. (pronounced el ee AG nus.) They are all tough shrubs/small trees, some are evergreen, others deciduous, and they fix nitrogen in the soil with an actinorhizal symbiosis with a Frankia bacteria. This feature not only allows them to grow in poor soils, but also adds to their use as a permaculture plant. They make great companions to many fruit and nut trees. They are also sold in the ornamental nursery trade because of their beautiful gold and silver dotted foliage (and their toughness). Despite all these wonderful traits, the best use of Elaeagnus in my opinion is eating! They make wonderful red berries (technically fruit) that are extremely nutritious, containing not only vitamin C and beta carotene, but the rare and vital fatty acid, Omega 3! Beyond that, the fruits contain ridiculously high amounts a lycopene, a proven cancer fighting agent. The seed is also edible, and contains a high amount of protein.
I could talk about these plants for hours, and I have had many very significant dream encounters with these plants. But for now, I just really want to share what’s happening in my garden, where I have planted nearly 20 Elaeagnus plants — Elaeagnus angustifolia (Russian olive), Elaeagnus umbellata (Autumn Olive), Elaeagnus multiflora (Goumi), as well as Elaeagnus pungens (the evergreen type). Currently, the deciduous Elaeagnus have just begun to produce flowers (which smell very sweet like a children’s candy.) The evergreen type started flowering in the fall, and despite record frosts in our area, produced fruit over the winter. Now, a few days after the spring Equinox, the evergreen Elaeagnus in my garden have ripe fruit. And these are 5 times or more the size of the small berries produced by the decidious Elaeagnus. The one you are looking at in the top picture is the first evergreen Elaeagnus fruit I have ever eaten. It was delicious. The seed, like my man Ken Fern at pfaf.org claims, did taste like a peanut! So cool! — flowers of one type at the same time ripe fruit of the other. But all of course are streaked with gold and silver.

photos copyrighted by Kevin Feinstein 2007.

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14 Responses to “Elaeagnus — The Gold and Silver Streaks”

  1. radical dreamer says:

    isn’t autumn olive an invasive species? i’d hate for the most beautiful, nitrogen-fixin’, and nutritious plant in the world to take over the soil-ravaged forests of america. somebody put a stop to it!

  2. Kevin says:

    Thanks for the comment radical dreamer. Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) IS considered to be an invasive species in the Eastern United States.

    “Invasive species” — a cultural construct (sometimes a useful one) but largely created by the same mega agriculture corporations that bring us the Round-up to spray on these so called invasive species. (The same companies bring us high apocalyptic potential genetically modified food.) David Theodoropoulos http://www.dtheo.com, also suggest that the construct of invasive species also comes from the same paradigm of fascism. Regardless, all species at one time where invaders, and invaded somewhere else. Modern ecology tells us that almost all ecosystems in the world (even those we consider healthy and ideal) are recent, non-coevolved aggragates. And despite claims of loss diversity pinned on these so-called invasive species, autumn olive increases alpha diversity — now there are hawthorns and willows AND autumn olive. But more importantly, omega diversity is increased — there are no “native” members of the Elaeagnacae family in the regions autumn olive is considered to be invasive. Planting them in my garden (where they are not considered to be invasive) increases my omega diversity by adding a member of this extradordinary family.

    Further, I have tried for three years now to get autumn olive to grow from seed and I have had not one single germination! I have also experienced poor rooting ability from cuttings, although I did have some success this year with root sucker cuttings in the dormant season. Despite their toughness, I’ve also had many die. I’m sure they’re tough once they get established, but then again, so are redwoods. Probably tougher.

    I think the hoo-ah about autumn olive being invasive comes from a simple matter of someone with some power deciding they didn’t like this plant for whatever reason, and convenient for them there is this huge rationale created by mega ag corporations to label this plants as invasive, as if it were science. It is this type of perversion of science (like GMO) that makes me think “science” as a description should be replaced all together.

  3. trippticket says:

    Hey Kevin, loved your response to the invasive question. When I read it, all I could think was, man, we’ve got to get rid of this perception! It’s a long road back to the garden, eh?

    OK, so I’m adding some of these guys to my zone 1 and 2 landscapes next season and have a few questions. 1) My favorite nursery in Washington state sells multiflora; have any suggestions for the others? 2) What kind of companions are you liking so far? I’m planting out a 5′ parking strip and another sloped perennial bed within the garden proper, and looking for solid guilds. If I could incorporate serviceberries and highbush cranberries that would be a bonus. 3) Got any technical pubs you could share on their physiology/ecology?

    Whatever you feel like sharing would be great. More pics of habit?

    Thanks!
    Tripp

  4. feralkevin says:

    I suggest E. multiflora and E. umbellata if you are looking for fruit and very vigorous growth. I got them from Burnt Ridge in Washington and Forest Farm in Oregon (mail-order.) Good sources.

    Companions: Mulberry, Feijoa, walnut, members or the Solanaceae and Lamiaceae Probably many possibilities

  5. trippticket says:

    Walnut AND Solanaceae? You mean, like an arbitrator?
    😉

  6. trippticket says:

    OK, I just read in Gaia’s Garden that some Solanaceae, non-potato kinds, are actully promoted for use in a walnut guild! Based on observation of other family members — chiltepines and wolfberries specifically — growing in association with walnut/hackberry communities. And here I thought they were mortal enemies.

    I suppose if we weren’t capsizing the foundations of our worldview regularly, this permaculture thing would just be another way to garden…

  7. trippticket says:

    Eleagnus:
    In case anyone else looks here for answers on where to find other species of Eleagnus besides goumi (multiflora), I found E. umbellata (Ruby Autumn Olive), E. macrophylla (Evergreen Eleagnus), E. pungens (Golden Silverberry), and E. angustifolia (Treboizond Date) at Burnt Ridge Nursery, in Onalaska, WA. Thanks for your help, Kevin.

  8. Thad Swapp says:

    been following your blog for 3 days now and i must say i’m starting to like your submit. and now how do i subscribe to your blog?

  9. Huei Flowers says:

    Can you tell me which ones are the most desirable in terms of fruit (delicious and big) please?

    Thank you.

  10. feralkevin says:

    The goumi is supposed to produce bigger fruit, but in my experience the plain old autumn olive (E. umbellata) produces the biggest crop (albeit small fruit) by far. I have found them to also be the tastiest. I bought a cultivar, can’t remember the name right now, of the E. umbellata, and it was more tart and produced less. Although I have never read this, from my experience seems that without more than one tree pollination is an issue. 2 is fine, within 20 feet or so of each other.

  11. Ryan Rosarian says:

    Hello, feralkevin I first saw your video on youtube about these gorgeous plants about a year ago and bought one myself. It was the video of you eating the red E. Umbellata berries and how you mentioned them being nicknamed “inside-out berries.” They looked so tasting when you were eating them and I became amazed and enthusiatic about these plants that I bought one myself. I was amazed by the E. umbellata plant variety by it’s dark jade green leaves with silvery undersides and silver and bronze scales on the branches. The plants look so majestic especially during the Spring. Unfortunatley though I wanted to make more room for my roses in my backyard I cut my E. Umbellata plant out of the soil and threw it away being that I thought I could always buy another one. It was so lame of me to do that and I regretted it soooo much!! A few weeks ago I finally went online and bought a pair of Ruby Silver Autumn Olive plants (E. Umbellata). I read that the “Ruby” variety gives larger fruit and produces in abundant which is perfect for making pies, tarts, jam and fruit leather candy, which is what the online nursery said. I also read that the “Jewell” variety is highly favored beacause of it’s highly flavored fruit. Having that said, I wanted to get your opinion though. Will these plants do well in containers? I have two 24 inch containers that I plan on putting them in since I have limited yard space, although I’m sure I could always make room, but all of the fuit plants and trees I have are all in containers and seem to be doing okay.

  12. feralkevin says:

    Certain types of Elaeagnus are used for bonzai, so they will grow in container, yes. I would not expect a huge crop of fruit, though, compared to when they are in the ground. They have extensive root systems, and can provide nitrogen to nearby plants when in the ground.

  13. Ryan Rosarian says:

    Oh yes, I think I remember you mentioning that in your video how they can be used as a “nurse” plant since they fix nitrogen in the soil from the atmosphere. Very cool. I will keep that in mind. Another thing I was going to ask is have you ever tried the fruit from the elaeagnus commutata plant also known as “wolf willow?” I plan on buying a few and using them as ornamentals because of their gorgeous silver color which covers the leaves and berries almost completely. Was wondering if the fruit on the E. Commutata was good or even edible.

  14. feralkevin says:

    I do not have any direct experience with the E. commutata. The fruit is edible, don’t know whether it’s palatable or not.

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