Wednesday, September 14, 2011
|All photos by Jonathan Schechter (in my Brandon Twp, Michigan meadow)|
Autumn olive is perhaps the most rapidly spreading plant in Michigan and a large
swath of the east and Midwest. It is no longer just an invasive species looking for a
This berry-rich plant has conquered our landscape and late every summer the species
flames out further in into the landscape with the speed of a wind-driven wildfire.
Autumn olive, also called autumnberry (that name tastes better in my mind) racks up
air-miles of spreading success because the juicy seeds are swallowed by birds and
then expelled out the other end after their travel time as tiny digestive track stowaways.
I know why song birds and wild turkeys, raccoons and opossums love these berries.
They are delicious!
They are also rich in lycopene, an antioxidant compound that is exceedingly good for you.
I pick them by the handfuls straight from the bush after a morning
rain and love the sweet yet slightly acidic flavor. The berries can also be used in jams
and pies and to make a juice. But before you head into the fields on foraging mission
based on my descriptions and photos a word of caution: A blog with pictures and
my anecdotes does not make for 100% certain identification. Without positive
ID you should not be munching away on berries hoping you have the right one.
Two clues help with identification.
1. The back side of the narrow leaves is silvery.
2. The berries have tiny silvery/gold specks all over them.
Autumn olive starts out as a small spindly shrub in a field and easily grows three or
four feet its first season. From there transforms into a rough and tough monster sized bush
that can get 15 feet tall with multiple and gnarly trunks. When the plant is in full sunlight
it because super-loaded with berries to the point that branches hang low.
How did autumn olive get here? Conservation agencies and sportsman organizations
in numerous states urged its planting decades ago as a plant to attract wildlife and