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Introducing: Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

Elaeagnus umbellata (Autumn Olive): helpful for pollinating insects, delicious fruits, a tough plant, easy to maintain, pretty flowers, a lovely scent and nitrogen-fixing.

What more could you want?


  • Names: Autumn Olive (also known as Japanese Silverberry, Umbellata Oleaster and Autumnberry)

  • Officially: Elaeagnus umbellata

  • Provenance: East Asia

  • Likes: Full sun or partial shade but a very tough plant that can take most sites

  • Provides: Fruit, windbreak and nitrogen-fixation

  • Size: Grows to around 4m x 4m, but can be clipped as a hedge


Every plant needs nitrogen to grow and yet nitrogen is not typically physically present in the soil in the same way that iron or calcium are. Instead, it has to be fixed into the soil by microbes, mostly bacteria.


There are two main ways it happens. One is by free-ranging bacteria that absorb nitrogen from the air and deposit it in the soil in a form plants can access.


The other, and the most exciting for us gardening types, is through a remarkable relationship between certain plants and certain microbes.


There is a huge range of plants that work with bacteria to fix nitrogen into the soil, making it available for themselves and for other nearby plants. You can learn a whole lot more about that relationship and how to work with it in our “10 Steps to a Nature Garden” course.


One such plant well worth some attention for your garden is “Autumn Olive.” It’s latin name, which is used quite commonly, is Elaeagnus umbellata (“Ell-ee-ag-nus Um-bu-larta”).

Forming a relationship with soil bacteria, Elaeagnus umbellata (and all Elaeagnus) fix nitrogen into their roots, which boosts their own growth and make nitrogen available more widely to plants in the vicinity.   

That helps build soil fertility and health. It lets us bypass the addition of liquid feeds, which can leach away, and instead focus on embedding the goodness into the soil in plant-accessible forms, helping to create thriving, healthy plants.


It’s one of a few Elaeagnus plants, all of which fix nitrogen and bring a whole host of other benefits too.

A tough plant

Autumn Olive is a very tough and very deciduous valuable shrub. It can take winds, salty air, acid and alkaline soils, wet soils, and dry soils. They also can tolerate temperatures dropping as low as -15C. That means it should grow well in your garden. It also means it’s a fantastic plant for hedging or windbreaks, to slow winds down.


Scent and fruit

And there is more.


Elaeagnus Umbellata produces lovely bunches of little, sweet-scented white flowers in the spring which are a fantastic source of pollen and nectar for pollinating insects.

Once pollinated, the flowers turn into bright red, pretty, edible fruits in the autumn. The fruits are edible raw, or can be cooked to make lovely jellies and jams. They are packed full of vitamin C. They can also be cooked and make lovely jellies.

In short

Autumn Olive is helpful for pollinating insects, has delicious fruits, is a tough plant and easy to maintain, with pretty flowers and a lovely scent and it fixes nitrogen into the soil to build soil health.

What more could you want?


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