While walking in the South Carolina Botanical Garden, I came across a substantial pile of Elaeagnus recently cut from our woods. My eye was caught by the silvery underside of the leaves flashing in the sun. Elaeagnus have a distinctive form: multiple stems at the base, which shade out other plants, and whip-like, elongated stems above. Battling Elaeagnus, along with English ivy, Chinese privet, and Kudzu, is ongoing in many places, including the SCBG. These plants were all introduced with good intent in the 1800s but rapidly got out of control and became invasive.
Elaeagnus colonizes an area rapidly, spreading by both suckers and seeds. One plant can have up to 20,000 tasty single-seeded drupes scattered far and wide once eaten by birds and mammals. In addition, this plant fixes nitrogen enabling it to colonize even the poorest soils. Once established, Elaeagnus shades out other plants to create a dense monoculture. The lack of plant diversity negatively affects animals who rely on native plants for survival.
The negative environmental impact of Elaeagnus landed it on the South Carolina Exotic Pest Plant Council’s Invasive Species List, and on October 1, 2024, its sale will be banned. You can be a good environmental steward by taking pre-emptive action to remove Elaeagnus from your landscape. Small plants can be hand-pulled. Larger shrubs or trees should be cut, and either an herbicide can be applied or continued cutting will be necessary to stop new sprouts from growing. Once eradicated, replace Elaeagnus with native alternatives. Some excellent native choices include wax myrtle (Morella cerifera), yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) or inkberry (Ilex glabra), serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), dogwoods (Cornus drummondii, C. racemosa or C. obliqua), and black haw (Viburnum prunifolium).
For more information, see Bradford Pear and Elaeagnus to Be Banned From Sale in South Carolina: What Do I Need to Know?