Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Plant ABC's - E is for Elaeagnus

The ABC's of plants in my garden continues with Elaeagnus.  Yes, that Elaeagnus, the one commonly known as Russian Olive and sometimes derisively referred to as "Ugly Agnes".  This plant not only serves an important function in my front yard, it does so beautifully.  Elaeagnus is the plant with the deep green leaves in the midst of the trees.

Currently unpopular as a landscape plant, it's also appearing on invasive species and noxious weed lists in some parts of the country.  I was not aware of any of these objections back in 1996 when I spotted them at Rainbow Gardens and decided they would make a perfect screen for the front yard.  We live on a curve at the bottom of the hill and clearly some screening was needed.

I didn't want a boxwood, privet, or any of the other common options I had seen at most nurseries.  It was those shiny green leaves with the silvery underside you can see below that caught my eye one day
and I planted three between the oaks in the front yard.  Problem solved.

We have a tough environment here with thin alkaline soil over rock combined with extreme heat and drought.  Elaeagnus has managed to thrive here with very little supplemental water while providing just the right amount of screening from the street.

The new foliage is pale red-gold and had little spots like freckles

The leaves also remind me of the Salal used by florists as greenery in arrangements.  Evergreen Eleaegnus has made a great winter backdrop for the deciduous American Beautyberry.  They naturally grow into a nice mounded shape and need pruning about every three years.  We pruned them back significantly in early February this year to give the Beautyberries room to grow.  They grow fast and should fill in fast providing birds the perfect spot to watch the beautyberries ripen.

In the Texas panhandle and some midwestern states it has escaped cultivation. Here in my yard they have never bloomed or produced berries and have stayed put exactly where I planted it more than 15 years ago.  I lost track of the exact variety, but they still carry them at Rainbow Gardens.

There are native plants that would work here, but I wasn't aware of that at the time.  The best plant is the one that works and I still love that combination of deep green and silver foliage all year long.


  1. VERY NICE! I just love evergreens! I’m always looking for ways to add more green to the garden. It looks like you found the perfect plant to do just that!

    1. Turns out this is the non-invasive type. See DD comment below.

  2. The Silverberry you show is one tough plant, even in Abq's heat and freeze-dry weather. Until the native Coffeeberry becomes available, it will work. Somehow, I haven't specified one in 15 years...

    It works very well under your live oaks.

  3. So this is Silverberry which is native to North America and not the invasive kind. Makes sense now, so that would explain why a good local/native plant nursery like Rainbow Gardens continues to carry them. It's in the Wildflower.org database which I didn't know.

    Thank you for helping me figure this out. It is a great plant because cold, heat, sun shade, rain/drought it never changes.

    1. Actually, I think Silverberry / Eleagnus pungens is an east Asia native...likes high humidity, heat. But can take it drier in summer or winter, too...and it is invasive in the SE US where wetter (not sure as far W as you). The small flowers smell so nice, I think now even here?

      Found this:

      Russian Olive / Eleagnus angustifolia is a more northerly bog tree, invasive along western and midwestern streams, though it only invades in Abq or El Paso where it is flooded...here it dries out, loses branches and is ugly. Hardly planted, and a Class C noxious weed.

    2. Thanks DD! Plant names can be confusing. The plant works here, but not a recommendation for everyone. Our landscaping approach was quite different 15 years ago.

      I will check next time I'm at Rainbow Gardens, but I remember the label was Russian Olive. Mine has not bloomed, could be the afternoon shade location.

  4. Naturally I know nothing about this plant or it's possible negatives, but I can see why you were attracted to it! It's a real looker!

    1. There was a time when color and form where my main concerns when choosing a plant and this one certainly fit those criteria much better than boxwood and privet.

  5. We had mostly Eleagnus here, when we moved in. It's a pretty plant. I don't like the long wild limbs it forms. But, for the plant size and the pretty foliage, I like it. I've never seen blooms, either. I'll have to look closer.
    We lost several last summer. Even the one at the corner of the house by the garage. You can see it in the before picture of the driveway bed post. Two weeks after that photo, that shrub was DEAD. I don't know what happened. Made it all the way through summer and then just died.
    The mysteries of gardening.
    I think yours looks good. We need some big bushes, once in a while.

    1. I went back and looked at your post and that is odd that it just died so quickly but the last two years have been tough for all plants.

      It's wasn't the best plant for that tight corner anyway. Ours are out in the yard so the wild stems look natural and we don't have to trim them often.

  6. I've never been favorably disposed to Elaeagnus, but your post might have just changed my mind, Shirley.


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