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Russian Olive

A plant species of Elaeagnus native to western and central Asia, from southern Russia and Kazakhstan to Turkey and Iran.

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Russian Olive: An Invasive Species That Is Worth Growing Anyway

  • Aug 4, 2009
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To step outside one morning this summer was to step into cloud of warm air and the smell of Russian olives in bloom. Too bad there’s no scratch-and-sniff feature on the Internet so far, because it would be a pleasure to share it.

In this climate the smells of growing things are particularly welcome, after the long season of cold. The first is the damp smell of newly-bared earth, followed by what I can only qualify as a “green” smell. Not one plant is yet in bloom, but there is a soft, sweet smell in the air.

After that comes the heady scent of hyacinths (too strong a smell for me: I don’t plant them) as well as that of lilacs. Peonies are next, followed by  mock orange. Then comes  the Russian olive.  The one  on the corner becomes covered with small yellow flowers, disproportionately full of fragrance. In some places the tree or shrub is considered an invasive pest, but here the winters are so severe that their spread is kept in check, and we can enjoy the odd specimen that does survive.

Which leads me to think of other plants to grow for their smell:

Roses, of course; petunias; geraniums for the spicy scent of their leaves; clover and alfalfa in lawns for the delightful smell after they are cut; eucalyptus for the bracing scent of their leaves when walked upon on foggy days...

That last is a memory from my California childhood. I guess that, even though I wasn’t much interested in gardening then, the odors of growing things made their way into the deepest corner of my mind, like Proust’s madeleine.

Photo: University of Minnesota Extension.

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August 04, 2009
It is funny that you refer to Proust's madeleine when describing the eucalyptus in your olive review because we had an olive tree growing up and your review made me think vividly of that time period. Thanks
About the reviewer
Mary Soderstrom is a Montreal-based writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her new collection of short stories, Desire Lines: Stories of Love and Geography, will be published by Oberon Press in November, … more
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Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia, Russian Silverberry, or Oleaster) is a species of Elaeagnus, native to western and central Asia, from southern Russia and Kazakhstan to Turkey and Iran.

It is a usually thorny shrub or small tree growing to 5-7 m in height. Its stems, buds, and leaves have a dense covering of silvery to rusty scales. The leaves are alternate, lanceolate, 4-9 cm long and 1-2.5 cm broad, with a smooth margin. The highly aromatic flowers are produced in clusters of 1-3 together, 1 cm long with a four-lobed creamy yellow corolla; they appear in early summer and are later replaced by clusters of fruit, a small cherry-like drupe 1-1.7 cm long, orange-red covered in silvery scales. The fruit is edible and sweet, though with a dryish mealy texture.

The shrub can fix nitrogen in its roots, enabling it to grow on bare, mineral substrates.

First cultivated in Germany in 1736, it is now widely grown across southern and central Europe as an ornamental plant: for its scented flowers, edible fruit, and attractive silver foliage and black bark. It was introduced into North America in the late 1800s, and subsequently naturalized into the wild. Russian olive is considered to be an invasive species because it has low seedling mortality rates therefore crowding out native vegetation in the wild. It often invades riparian habitat where overstory cottonwoods have died.

Establishment and reproduction is primarily by seed, although some vegetative propagation also occurs. ...
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Gardening, Plants, Darwinian Gardening, Russian Olives, Invasive Species, Hardy Trees


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