This work-horse of a tree has been put out to pasture. And it took over the pasture!
Native to Asia, the autumn olive tree was imported as an ornamental to North America in the 1830s. Later, from the 1930s through the 1970s, it was promoted by the USDA and nurseries as a beneficial tree for erosion control, wind breaks, and wildlife habitat. The tree’s plentiful berries, drought resistance, and ability to thrive in poor soil allowed it to proliferate, spreading into pastures, empty lots, and along highways all across the Northeastern United States. In the 1970s the Autumn Berry was declared invasive, and since then conservationists have been working to control the spread of the tree.
Rediscovering the autumn berry
More recently, USDA researchers uncovered the impressive nutritional value of autumn berries. The research revealed that autumn berries “contain high amounts of lycopene, a carotenoid pigment most commonly associated with tomato.” This is significant because lycopene “is considered an important phytonutrient, and is thought to prevent or fight cancer of the prostate, mouth, throat and skin, and to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease” (Black, B.L. and I. Fordham. 2005). The researchers also planted fields of autumn olives and experiment with harvesting methods, exploring its potential as a cash crop for commercial production (PDF), even suggesting the name “autumn berry” as a more attractive name for the fruit.
We intend to continue these efforts, exploring the economic viability and ecological benefits of utilizing this new resource.