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. The fruit is readily eaten and disseminated by many species of birds. The plants begin to flower and fruit from three years old.
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 … more