Efforts to decrease erosion and increase wildlife habitat, e.g., ruff grouse, on our farm during the late ’70s early ’80s started with consulting the local U.S. Soil Conversation rep. He was a young Delmarva native assigned to our district in West Virginia by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a fine person to work with.
Recommendations included stopping cattle grazing on 30 steep acres, developing some springs to limit erosion, and planting of autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata, a shrub that produces huge berry crops), white pine, and switch grass.
The plan was designed and federally subsidized to limit erosion caused by cattle wallows and increasing the grouse population. The soil conservation office helped with the expenses and provided the trees and shrubs. We purchased switch grass seed. What a surprise, the autumn olive thrived, the white pine was devoured by the deer, and the switch grass didn’t grow. Having developed springs and 500-gallon tanks for watering was/is great and throwing in a few gold fish an added plus. Erosion stopped, birds fed!
Autumn olive, a deciduous shrub native to Asia that has spread as an invasive species throughout the United States, is a different story. Autumn olive is clearly in view on the Shore and is invading. Observe as you travel Route 13 and look along the edges of the fauna for a light green shrub tree up to 20 feet high. In the spring, there are white flowers that emit a honey sweet aroma. Check out the invasion as you head toward Chincoteague on the right side from Wallops to the causeway marsh. Autumn olive fixes nitrogen in the soil and has inch-long sharp needlelike thorns.
Back to the West Virginia farm: upon retiring in 2007, my obsession was eradicating the autumn olive that had invaded the farm virtually everywhere frequent mowing didn’t occur. Mechanical means of grubbing them out with a tractor bucket, digging out with a digger, and brush hogging were totally ineffective as they then just spread from the root everywhere. (Similar to crape myrtle). Gathering the shrubs and piling up to burn doesn’t work either; they just will not burn!
The only thing that works is to cut them off low and paint the freshly cut stump with a mixture of Crossbow herbicide and diesel fuel and that had to be done within 30 minutes. Everywhere a bird “deposits” a seed a plant can thrive. This plant, although pretty and a heavy barer of eatable berries, will take over everyplace that doesn’t get mowed. Our Onancock neighborhood has some prime examples. Please beware, autumn olive is a serious invasive species.