Thorny Olive - Silverthorn
Elaeagnus pungens - Thunberg
Elaeagnaceae (Oleaster) Family


Thorny Olive is an introduced evergreen shrub in the Oleaster family (Elaeagnaceae). It is native to China and Japan, and was first introduced in the United States in 1830. In Alabama it can be found statewide. Thorny Olive is planted as an ornamental and escapes to vacant lots, roadsides, urban woodlands, and natural areas. It is a densely branched woody shrub with long, arching stems. The stems can be up to 20 feet in length and entwine with adjacent vegetation in a vine-like manner. Young stems and branches are covered in brown scales. Older stems are armed with spines up to 3 inches in length.

Leaves are alternate, evergreen, petiolate, leathery, oblong to lanceolate in outline, with undulate margins. The petiole is covered in brown scales. The upper side of the leaf is glabrous and dark to yellowish green in color. The lower surface of the leaf is whitish and is covered with tan to brownish scales.

Flowers are funnelform and produced in clusters in the axils of the leaves during the winter. The flowers have brown scaly peduncles; yellowish-white in color and have a sweet scent. Flowers usually occur in late November and will continue to flower until February of the following year.

The fruit is an oblong drupe with a single large seed. The drupe is red or orange in color with silvery scales.

Thorny Olive is often planted as a dense barrier to foot or vehicle traffic and to screen unsightly areas. The fruit are consumed by birds which spread the seeds over a large area. Portions of the stem that come into contact with the soil will root.

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