The Russian Olive Tree in Ontario: A Complex Beauty

The Russian Olive Tree (Elaeagnus angustifolia) stands as a unique and captivating presence in Ontario’s diverse landscape. With its silvery appearance and robust nature, this tree has found favor in many gardens across the province. Yet, its beauty is not without complexity. While celebrated for its ornamental charm and hardiness, the Russian Olive Tree also bears invasive traits that have sparked concerns and debates among gardeners, landscapers, and environmentalists in Ontario.



The Russian Olive Tree grows up to 40 feet tall and 25 feet wide. Its twigs are adorned with small silver scales and may bear sharp spines up to 2 inches long. The leaves are narrow, lance-shaped, and silvery or grey-green on both sides, giving the tree its distinctive appearance.

Flowers and Fruits

In mid-to-late spring, the tree produces fragrant, bell-shaped flowers that are yellow on the top side and silvery on the underside. The fruits are yellow-brown in color, developing silvery scales as they ripen in the fall.

Russian Olive Tree leaves

Benefits in Landscaping

Aesthetic Appeal: The Russian Olive Tree’s silvery leaves and fragrant, bell-shaped flowers create a stunning visual effect, adding elegance and distinction to Ontario’s gardens. Its unique appearance can transform ordinary landscapes into extraordinary outdoor spaces.

Hardiness: Known for its robust nature, the Russian Olive Tree thrives in a wide range of soil conditions. Whether planted in rich, fertile soil or in areas with poor, salty ground, this tree’s adaptability makes it a versatile choice for gardeners in Ontario.

Drought and Salt Tolerance: In a province where weather conditions can vary, the Russian Olive Tree’s resilience to both drought and salt is a significant advantage. Its ability to withstand challenging growing conditions without compromising its beauty makes it a valuable addition to landscapes across Ontario.

The Controversial Side

Invasive Impacts

Spread: The Russian Olive Tree’s seeds are readily spread by birds and wildlife, finding new homes in various landscapes. In flood-prone areas of Ontario, the seeds can be transported by floodwaters, allowing the tree to colonize new territories rapidly and sometimes uncontrollably.

Habitats Invaded: This tree’s invasive nature enables it to invade open and riparian areas, including prairies, savannas, and streambanks. In Ontario, where diverse ecosystems coexist, the Russian Olive Tree’s intrusion can disrupt the balance of native flora, leading to concerns among environmentalists and conservationists.

Effects on Ecosystem: Perhaps the most complex aspect of the Russian Olive Tree’s presence in Ontario is its impact on the ecosystem. By out-competing native species, it can alter the natural hydrology and streamflow of an area. Moreover, its ability to fix nitrogen—a process that converts atmospheric nitrogen into a form plants can use—can dramatically alter the ecosystem’s chemistry, potentially affecting other plant species and the organisms that depend on them.

Landscape History

Historical Use: It was once widely planted for wildlife forage, windbreaks, and erosion control.

Current Market: Despite its invasive traits, there is still a market for Russian Olive as an ornamental plant.

Management and Control

Physical Control: Small plants can be hand-pulled; larger ones require equipment.

Chemical Control: Herbicide treatments can be applied, with careful consideration of site conditions.

Monitoring: Ongoing monitoring is essential to prevent regrowth and new seedlings.

A group of Russian Olive trees in a park.

Cultural Significance

The Russian Olive Tree has a rich cultural history that extends beyond its ornamental appeal. In some cultures, it symbolizes peace and goodwill. Its fragrant flowers and unique appearance have inspired artists and poets. In traditional medicine, various parts of the tree have been used for healing purposes. Understanding its cultural significance adds a deeper layer of appreciation for this complex tree.

Practical Gardening Tips

Planting and caring for the Russian Olive Tree requires some specific considerations:

  • Soil Preparation: It thrives in various soil types but prefers well-drained soil. Adding compost can enhance soil quality.
  • Planting: Choose a sunny location and plant in early spring or late fall. Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball and water thoroughly after planting.
  • Watering: While drought-tolerant, regular watering during the first year helps establish the root system.
  • Pruning: Prune in late winter to remove dead or damaged branches and shape the tree.
  • Pest Control: Monitor for common pests and apply organic or chemical treatments as needed.
  • Invasive Control: If concerned about invasiveness, consider planting in a contained area or using barriers to prevent spreading.


The Russian Olive Tree in Ontario is a beautiful yet complex character in the landscape. Its aesthetic appeal and resilience make it a desirable addition to gardens, but its invasive nature requires careful management. Gardeners and landscapers in Ontario must weigh the benefits and challenges to make informed decisions.

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