The Russian olive is a deciduous ornamental tree that originated in eastern Europe and western Asia, and was introduced to the United States in the early 1900s. Its scientific name is Elaeagnus angustifolia and it is also known, more commonly, as the oleaster tree. Originally grown as an ornamental plant and sometimes used as a windbreak, the Russian olive has proliferated across much of the country and in some areas is considered an invasive species.
The leaves of the tree are lance-shaped and measure from 2 to 4 inches in length and about 1 1/2 inches in width. The edge of the leaf is usually smooth, although small serrations sometimes occur. They are green with a slightly silvery caste and a scaly, silvery underside. The flowers appear as cluster of up to 10 white to yellow, tubular blossoms that are quite fragrant. The tree bears many small fruits that are about 1/2 inch long. They are ovoid in shape, yellowish-green tinged with reddish-brown, hard and fleshy. There is one seed per fruit. The branches of the tree are covered with sharp thorns.
Russian olive trees often grow rapidly when young. This growth rate slows as the tree matures. Russian olive trees are capable of growing from hardiness zone 9 in the U.S. to well into Canada.
The Russian olive typically grows with one leader trunk and forms a loosely rounded or oval shape and sometimes irregular silhouette. The crown of the plant is fairly open. The tree can reach 20 feet in height and can spread just as wide. Overall, the tree has a finely textured appearance.
Russian olive tree can adapt to a wide range of soil conditions and can tolerate both alkaline and acidic soils, as long as they drain well. The plant appreciates full sun. It is both drought and salt tolerant and thrives in drier climates. Russian olive trees grow well even in poor soil conditions due to their ability to fix nitrogen.
The Russian olive tree is commonly used as an ornamental in landscape settings. It is recommended for trimming parking lots and medians and can also be found in mining reclamation efforts. The tree is commonly grown for wind breaks and can also serve as food and cover for wildlife. Birds, in particular, feed on the fruit. Because of this activity, the seeds are easily transported and the plant may become a weed tree, in underdeveloped areas.