I was walking today and came upon a sweet smell. Excitement built as the fragrance intensified only to be disappointed. The fragrance was a familiar spring scent that I only remembered when I saw the plant. Its white to light yellow flowers hung against its silvery green foliage - yes you guess it - autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). This deciduous plant can be consider a small tree or shrub. The stem, buds and leaves are covered with scales that are silver in color.
Its leaves are small, oval in shaped and have smooth margins. The currently present flowers will soon be replaced by small round fruit that is reddish in color and dotted with silver specks as well.
Autumn olive is native to China and Japan. The introduction to the United States occurred in the early 1800s. It was planted as an ornamental and was recommended for wildlife and windbreaks before its "bad habit" was recognized.
Autumn olive and its relative Russian olive have nitrogen-fixing root nodules. This allows both species to adapt to many soil types, including those that are considered poor.
Autumn olive can be found through much of Ohio and is adapted to a variety of sites. The plants I saw today were along a stream in both sun and shade. Other common areas you might find this invasive is along the highway, old fields, woodlands and open and often disturbed sites. This plant will often outcompete natives. Once established it can be a heavy fruit producer visited by birds and further spread by our feathered friends.
Manually removing plants when they are small can be effective. You will have better luck when the soil is moist and roots will pull out more easily. As the plant grows, a combination of cut stump and herbicide application will be most effective.