Let’s harvest all the autumn berries we can, but not plant any more.
While finding a valuable resource in the autumn olive tree, we do not condone planting this tree where it doesn’t already exist. With its invasive nature, the autumn olive tree can spread to neighboring lands and out-compete other species, reducing diversity and changing the terrain. The trees that supply the fruit for our autumn berry products are already established, and we are doing our ecological duty by beating the birds to the berry, harvesting all we can, and thereby lessening the further spread of the tree.
According to the USDA, the autumn olive can be quite persistent once established, growing back from the roots when cut down or mowed off. Due to this persistent nature, seed dispersal by wildlife, and the ability to thrive in poor soils, feral populations of autumn olive have established throughout the Eastern U.S. As a result, autumn olive is now on the federal invasive species list. However, a number of important crop species and landscape plants are similarly listed. Due to this listing, autumn olive should not be planted for fruit production where it is not already established as this could facilitate the further spread of this species. Further, the plant is listed as a noxious weed in West Virginia and New Hampshire. (Sources: Autumn Olive, a berry high in lycopene, Autumn Olive: Weed or New Cash Crop? (PDF), Autumn Olive: A Cash Crop from the Wild? )
The benefits of harvesting autumn berries
The magical thing about harvesting autumn berries from an existing wild grove is that it actually improves the land. During our seven years of experimentation, we have found that to get much fruit, we needed to thin out the autumn olive trees, and also remove other invasive species and do some basic pruning. The grove goes from being too dense to enter, to open and diverse. The land becomes more productive and accessible for humans and wildlife. Then we take it a step further and we replant the newly exposed land with desirable native plants.
Autumn berries enrich the soil
In a dense grove, the autumn olive trees have been enriching the soil for many years. With nitrogen fixing roots down below and fruit, leaves, and sticks from above, poor, depleted soils can become incredibly fertile over time. This is the reason the autumn olive was brought to the United States and promoted for so many decades: It restores poor, disturbed soil, as with land that has been moved for mining, highways, construction, and agriculture. So thank you to the autumn olive! And thank you to our forefathers (and the birds) for planting so many trees! Today, it’s our privilege to utilize this fertile, restored land and the bountiful resources that come from it, including delicious autumn berries.
And by utilize, we mean:
- replant with natives.
As opposed to:
- chop down
- apply herbicide
Driving from Virginia to Illinois, I have seen that there are more than enough trees to supply our needs. Our mission moves us to inspire a grass roots movement that helps control the spread of the tree, while bringing income and jobs to rural communities, and a new nutritious taste to consumers everywhere.