The History of 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 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 drunk. Summertime.

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’ve pulled everything out that they wanted. It’s an invasive species, much like the coal companies that left it here.

Autumn olive 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.” 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 will tell you that this plant is like so many left-over shits the coal company took on us. Half-assed and deeply irreversible.

I picked some autumn olive recently and put it in a bottle of river water so it would keep until we got home. In our small car it smelled sickeningly sweet. I breathed it in deep.