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Russian Olive Tree Facts

olive image by G.g1 from

The Russian olive tree (Elaeagnus angustifolia L.) grows as a tree or a small shrub with thorns. It ranges in height from 12 feet to 45 feet. The tree can easily grow six feet per year, according to Utah State University. The tree or shrub spreads up to 20 feet using suckers that grow in abundance from the tree's root system. Its invasive and rapid growth poses a serious danger to riparian areas.

Appearance and Growth

The Russian olive tree produces lance-shaped leaves. The stems, buds and leaves of the plant appear silver because of a covering of silvery to rusty scales. In June and July the tree produces highly fragrant yellow blossoms. When flowering ends, clusters of olive-sized silver fruits appear. Birds adore the fruit and bird populations have increased in areas dominated by the Russian olive tree, according to the National Park Service.

Root System

The root system of the Russian olive tree has the ability to fix nitrogen into the soil. This allows the tree to out-compete native vegetation. It can grow in barren and nutrient-poor locations. It will take over riparian areas where the tree thrives on the moist soil along stream banks, river banks and lakeshores.


The Russian olive tree was first brought to the United States from Germany in the late 1800s. It became a popular fast-growing ornamental in yards across the nation, according to the National Park Service. It was also widely used as a windbreak, wildlife food source and for erosion control. The dominating species quickly escaped cultivation and began to thrive in the countryside.


Birds easily spread the seeds of the Russian olive tree after ingesting the fruit. The seeds appear to have no problem surviving the birds digestive tract for easy dispersal. The seeds remain viable for up to three years, according to the Montana Audubon Society. Seedlings grow well in full sunlight, partial shade or full shade.


The tree grows easily at elevations of 4,500 to 6,000 feet. It can withstand heavy flooding and will grow in a variety of soils. The tree grows throughout most of the central and western United States. It also grows across Pennsylvania and Virginia.

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