thorny olive

Rhamnales > Elaeagnaceae > Elaeagnus pungens Thunb.
Synonym(s): thorny elaeagnus, silverthorn

Thorny olive is a dense evergreen shrub that invades natural areas throughout the southeastern United States. The shrub is often multi-stemmed and short. Sharp shoots give it a thorny appearance. Shrubs can grow 3.3-26.3 ft. (1-8 m) tall. Shrubs are usually very dense with long shoots extending from the top. The leaves are alternate, oval to elliptical, with irregular wavy margins and silvery surfaces, 2-4 in. (5.1-10.2 cm) in length and thick. The axillary clusters of small, sweet-smelling, white to brown flowers develop in the fall. Plants rarely fruit, but fruit are small, red and dotted with small brown scales. Thorny olive closely resembles two other exotic olives, autumn olive and Russian olive. A high shade tolerance allows thorny olive to invade both in open areas and under forest canopies. The seeds are dispersed by animals, giving this plant the potential for rapid spread. Thorny olive is native to eastern Asia and was first introduced into the United States in 1830 as an ornamental.

Identification, Biology, Control and Management Resources

Selected Images from

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Foliage; April
James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service,
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Foliage; October
James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service,
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Fruit(s); Mature fruit with leaves in March
Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society,
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Plant(s); October
James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service,
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Plant(s); January. Photo from Forest Plants of the Southeast and Their Wildlife Uses by J.H. Miller and K.V. Miller, published by The University of Georgia Press in cooperation with the Southern Weed Science Society.
James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service,
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Invasive Reference(s):

Check for most current lists.
  • Alabama - IPC List
  • Florida - EPPC list
  • Georgia - EPPC list
  • South Carolina - EPPC List
  • Tennessee - EPPC List
  • Tennessee - Noxious Weed Law
  • Virginia - Invasive Alien Plant Species
  • Mid-Atlantic - EPPC List
  • Invasive Plant Atlas of the Mid-South

External Links

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USDA Forest Service Bugwood University of Georgia