Autumn Olive


My goodness, this time of year is seductive. We all watch as the world turns green and pink and purple and blue and yellow. The flowers curl out of the dirt and bloom into perfect little beauties. Everything smells sweet and fresh. The autumn olive bushes and the phlox are warm, their scent intensified by the sun.

The smell of autumn olive is one of those scents to me, the good summertime smells. The ones that remind you you’re alive. The ones that in the night, with the windows down, it blows in, and you feel almost drunk it is so good. The irony of that is not lost on me. Autumn olive is historically used for mine reclamation. They plant it on old mine sites after they pulled everything out that they wanted. It’s an invasive species, much like the coal companies that left it here.

The history of autumn olive.

I want to tell you about autumn olive. It was introduced into the US in 1830; brought here as an ornamental shrub. It was carried here from East Asia to “restore deforested and degraded lands.” It is found in “grasslands, fields, open woodlands and other disturbed areas… Because autumn olive is capable of fixing nitrogen in its roots, it can grow dense on bare mineral substrates.” It is bad because “it threatens native ecosystems by out-competing and displacing native plant species.”

For prevention and control of the shrub, “Do not plant autumn olive.”

I picked some recently to take home because of its smell. In the car, it was sickeningly sweet. I will tell you that this plant is like so many left-over shits the coal company took on us. Half-assed and deeply irreversible.