Do you have autumn olive on your property causing problems? If so, there is a workshop being offered on Saturday, July 7, to teach landowners how to identity autumn olive and different methods on how to control it.

This workshop will be held at the South Branch Township Hall from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The town hall is located at 7257 W. 48 Rd. in Cadillac This workshop is sponsored by the Wexford Conservation District and will be led by Vicki Sawicki, Invasive Species Specialist with North Country CISMA. The workshop is free of charge, but donations are accepted.

This workshop is also available for four credits of continuing education in the Forestry, Ornamental, Right-of-Way and Core Categories of the Pesticide Applicators License. Pre-registering for the workshop is required by calling the Wexford Conservation District office at 231-775-7681 ext 3 or emailing District Forester Larry Czelusta at by July 2.

So, how did autumn olive become such a pest in America? Well, it might help to first understand the ecological conflict of the European Starling. In the late 1590s, in William Shakespeare’s work "Henry IV," he wrote of the starling’s ability to mimic and repeat an annoying name in the ear of the king. According to Scientific American, in the late 19th century a group called the American Acclimatization Society was reportedly working to introduce to the United States every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s scripts. The Acclimatization Society released hundreds of European starlings in New York City’s Central Park in 1890 and 1891. By 1950 starlings could be found throughout the United States and their numbers were estimated to top 200 million.

The starling’s introduction to North America has had a severe impact on the population and ecological balance of native birds. Once the negative impact was understood, a great deal of money and effort was expended to control the bird’s population with limited success.

Called the Law of Unintended Consequences, our efforts to benefit our surroundings sometimes creates a nightmare that was never imagined and surely not intended. The story of the introduction of autumn olive to North America is another case in point. Autumn olive is a hardy shrub that is native to China, Korea and Japan. Immigrants from these countries brought autumn olive, probably as seeds, to their new homes in South Carolina in 1830. Birds in America soon saw the bright red berries as a preferred food.

Autumn olive sprouts and grows on a wide variety of sites, including some of the most unfavorable soils. Once established, the shrub grows quickly, up to 20 feet in height. Landowners and resource professionals soon saw the benefits of planting autumn olive. From the 1940s through the 1980s, autumn olive was planted for wildlife and conservation practices, including wildlife cover to windbreaks. Autumn olive provided landowners with everything they wanted — survivability, fast growth and lots of berries. As a tree nurseryman in a neighboring state, I remember growing and shipping tens of thousands of autumn olive seedlings for wildlife packets to be planted throughout the state. But time has shown the unintended consequences of our best intentions. And now many of those landowners wished they had never planted those autumn olive seedlings.

Carrying the seeds within their stomachs, birds disseminated the autumn olive seeds widely. An established shrub can produce up to 200,000 seeds each year. These seeds can be spread and sprout over a large variety of habitats. Once established, it reproduces quickly and becomes an invasive species that out-competes and displaces native plants. Even attempting to remove autumn olive from your property by cutting or burning can cause unwanted spreading. Newly exposed to sunlight, the warmed soil facilitates the germination of the seeds.

Autumn olive is now one of the most troublesome shrubs in Michigan. In some places, entire fields have been overrun with autumn olive.

From a statewide or regional perspective, control of autumn olive may be considered a lost cause, but that is not the case for the individual landowner. If you have autumn olive growing on your property, you can get rid of it. It is always easier to control smaller plants than larger established shrubs. Cutting or mowing it does not work. It must be removed by the roots or chemically controlled with herbicides.

To learn more about these techniques, come to the workshop on July 7.


Larry Czelusta is the Forester for Wexford and Missaukee Conservation Districts. For more information about trees and forestry, contact Larry by phone, email, or stop by the office at the USDA Service Center at 7192 E. 34 Rd. (Boon Road) in Cadillac.