Don’t Grow an Invasive Russian Olive Tree in Your Yard

The Russian olive tree was once a popular choice. See why a garden expert says you should avoid this invasive tree—and what to plant instead.

Is a Russian Olive Tree Invasive?

Russian olive treeCourtesy James Seifert
Gardeners should avoid growing invasive Russian olive trees.

This shrub (above) was labeled as a witch hazel. Is it?” asks Birds & Blooms reader James Seifert of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Gardening expert Melinda Myers says, “It looks as though you ended up with a Russian olive tree (Elaeagnus angustifolia). Perhaps the plant was mislabeled, or possibly the witch hazel died and a seedling of Russian olive took its place.”

But unfortunately, Melinda points out that these trees are very aggressive and invade natural areas, outcompeting native plants, disrupting waterways and altering wildlife habitats. It is no longer recommended that people add Russian olive trees to their landscapes. The tree is listed as invasive in the majority of the United States and parts of Canada.

See more trees you should never grow in your yard.

Trees You Should Plant Instead of Russian Olive

Russian olive treeCourtesy James Seifert
Russian olive trees are adaptable but can spread aggressively.

A Russian olive tree typically grows to be anywhere between 10 to 25 feet. It can thrive in a variety of conditions, making it particularly good at adapting in areas where it’s not wanted.

“Russian olive is native to Europe and western Asia and was brought to the U.S. in the 1800s as an ornamental plant,” says Melinda Myers. “During the 1980s, it was recommended for wildlife plantings, erosion control and windbreaks.”

Although a number of birds will visit this tree to snack on its fruit, this can further the spread of this invasive plant. The birds and other wildlife can spread the tree’s seeds.

If you want to attract and feed birds, stick to other native trees that better provide for them. Some popular picks include winterberry, elderberry, hawthorn and beautyberry. Consult your local university extension office or garden center to find the top recommended options for your area.

Next, find out if an Amur maple shrub is invasive.

Molly Jasinski
Molly Jasinski is an editor, writer and social media manager for Birds & Blooms. She’s been with the magazine since 2019 and with Trusted Media Brands since 2012. She brings more than 10 years of editorial experience to Birds & Blooms and has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. In her role, Molly works closely with bird experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman and gardening expert Melinda Myers, in addition to the Birds & Blooms freelance writers. Molly was featured in a May 2023 episode of The Thing With Feathers birdwatching podcast. She's a member of the nonprofit Friends of Wehr Nature Center in Franklin, Wisconsin, a popular location for birdwatching in southeastern Wisconsin. She goes out birding often and is still hoping to spot a tufted titmouse in the near future.