Elaeagnus feralculture gardening invasive species local food tending the wild wild food

Elaeagnus umbellata — Autumn olive permaculture plant. Invasive?

When I first got to the current garden I manage, I was an early “permie” (like a trekkie to Star Trek so is a permie to permaculture) and wanted to build a food forest — fast. I planted lots of things in a mad rush with the constant mantra in my mind that the best time to plant a fruit tree is 10 years ago. I planted: feijoa, comfrey, Lycium, yellowhorn, female grafted ginkgo, figs, pomegranates, persimmon, persian mulberry, Ceanothus, Passiflora, Arbutus, Jujube, and Elaeagnus. 3 years later I have the result of my collaboration with this piece of land and the plants that I imported. (Even “native” plants are imported typically from somewhere — Although I did transplant nettles, willows, and several other species from the local wetshed.) Right now, I’m in an Elaeagnus shrubland. They made it. Many other things didn’t.

Most of the talk about this plant is fear of its invasiveness. Most of my YouTube comments have mentioned this as well. First of all, there is no such thing as “invasive”, per se. All plants and other creatures formerly came from somewhere. Dispersed by many natural agents such as the wind, floating seeds, birds, and people. Plants and animals move across the planet. They always have. Camels evolved in North America as did the precursor to the horse. How can gingko or horsetail been invasive when they were here before the dinosaurs? This argument goes very deep, and for more information I suggest going to David Theodoropoulos’s site. So without objective definitions of “invasive” or “native” what sense can we make of invasion biology?
Who benefits from poisioning the land with toxic pesticides (and their combinations), clearcutting, habitat destruction, and generally wreaking havoc on nature? Typically, herbicide companies such as Monsanto. However, don’t blame them exclusively, they are a mere product of the paradigm of civilization run completely off the cliff. (For more on this, read Ishmael).
So back to my feral garden that is an Elaeagnus shrubland. In my area they are not “invasive” because they need summer water to germinate and our summers or essentially water free. I couldn’t get any of the seed to germinate, even when given summer water. Also, this is not an abandoned land like most people conceive of wilderness to be. Everyone one of these berries will be devoured by a community of human foragers. I planted them in full awareness that they are not going to spread into the wildlands here. They are on the top “noxious” or “invasive species” lists in the Eastern U.S. They are said to displace native habitat and reduce biological diversity. This is an irrational conclusion based on questionable studies. Alpha and Omega diversity are increased by having Autumn olive in the East, and it’s a healer of soil, which has been extremely degraded there. The landscapes that the “native” plants there were accostomed to only a few hundred years ago are all but gone, and there is a catastrophically altered landscape in its place. If Autumn Olive thrives in this environment, why not let it?
If it’s a matter of preference or focused native restoration attempt, then use Autumn olive, don’t poison the entire watershed to kill like it’s bad or something. If you have Autumn olive in your area, eat it! It’s an amazing food source.
Based on my research into this subject, I do not subscribe to the construct of an invasive species. However, as an engaged land manager who is dealing with what is actually going on in the ecology I will say this: There is no such thing as an invasive species, but there is such a thing as an irresponsible planting.

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4 thoughts on “Elaeagnus umbellata — Autumn olive permaculture plant. Invasive?

  1. I’m not familiar with E. umbellata so I’ll comment on a particularly egregious invasive, the white pine blister rust. Surely you admit that this imported fungus (which is killing off the white pines in alpine & sub alpine areas all across the western US, which is eliminating a prime food source (pine nuts) for birds, bears and assorted mammals) is invasive. It did not coevolve with the white pines here as it did with european white pines for millenia, so american white pines have little/no genetic resistance to it.

    …I agree with you on your broad philosophical points, but literally hundreds of well designed studies have found invasive species to be one of the main causes for local extirpation of native species.

    Perhaps if so many ecosystems weren’t already in such bad shape, *and* the rate of introduction of invasives was several orders of magnitude less, then maybe it wouldn’t be such a worrisome problem…

  2. I would seriously question the claim that it is the sole causal agent of the decline of pines. Maybe it is. But researcher Lee Klinger and others have studied forest decline all of the world, and often diseases and pests are opportunist preying on overall weakened forests.

    It’s much more convenient to isolate causes and blame something else than to really take a look at the big picture. Ecology is not rocket science — it was waaaay more complex.

    I am very worried about ecological decline, but I’m not going to blame plants, animals, and other wild organisms for our global misdoings.

    I also want to point out that I want to protect “native” species — I love them. But this is a personal, cultural choice, not a scientific one. Modern ecology tells us that ecosystems are generally non co-evolved aggregates of species, that are constantly being invaded and moving elsewhere to invade. So are ginkgos native to Oregon? I say yes. How can we call horsetail invasive when it was here millions of years ago? People have been in the American Southwest longer than the iconic Sugaro cactus ecology, which is called “native.” So the terms “native” and “invasive” are cultural creations (not to say they don’t exist), not scientific ones.

    I could go on and on. Thank you for you comment.

  3. Nice explanation. I believe Bill Mollison calls this thinking Michael describes the “phasmid conspiracy.” That is as you already said, forests, and ecosystems in general, are out of balance because of human abuse. Damage a tree and you can just watch the decomposers come out and start munching away. But they didn’t initiate the damage, they are just finishing the job. See http://www.barkingfrogspermaculture.org/PDC_ALL.pdf for more.

    I find it so incomprehensible that “land management” practices, which supposedly are to bring the ecosystem back into balance, call for spraying of poisons to attempt to control invasives (a lot of which are edible as you point out). Fixing the root cause seems so much easier to me in the long run.

  4. part of the problem with southeastern biomes is the suppression of anthropogenic fires we are seeing the results of this in great loss of native forest species most of our native flora and fauna coevoled over 10 to 20000 years with man burning the woods fields etc every 3 to 5 years

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