Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Smell Of Spring

Tonight I was reminded of one of several sure signs of Spring, the smell of Elaeagnus umbellata, or as it is often known either Autumn Olive or Silverberry. Both of those common names are misleading, it's not an olive and usually fruits in late summer, and the fruit aren't silver. Yay for proper botanical names, at least with those you always know which plant you're talking about.

I don't think much of the plant itself, personally I consider it a noxious weed or a trash plant. It's highly invasive, practically indestructible, and it can and does grow just about anywhere and everywhere. Here in Pennsylvania it grows rampant in roadside areas of all types, from full sun to fairly deep shade. It's not much to look at, a scraggly looking mess with no real shape or form ranging in size from a large shrub to a small tree with a lot of very large thorns. Its leaves have a distinctive silver color on the bottom, often giving the entire plant a silvery appearance.

Then there's the fragrance, drive past a few of these in the evening or throughout the night and it's like you're driving through olfactory heaven. They cover themselves with small creamy white to yellowish flowers that are ridiculously fragrant, sweet but not cloyingly so and with a somewhat spicy smell as well. It's one of my most favorite things to smell. If its essential oils were distilled into a perfume base then any woman wearing it within 50 feet of me would need running shoes and a cattle prod. Yes, it's that good!

The fruit are quite good, however much like a persimmon you better wait until they're fully ripened before eating them. Let's see, how to describe the effects of an unripe persimmon or Elaeagnus fruit, hmmmm..... Have you ever seen the old episode of the Tom and Jerry cartoon where the mouse feeds the cat a spoonful of alum, and it shrivels the cat's head down to about 1/4 size? Well, that's about what an unripe persimmon will do to you, and unripe Elaeagnus isn't far behind. It kind of feels like it's turning your mouth inside out, leaving you with an hours long case of dry mouth. They fruit rather prolifically, large clusters of small red berries resembling semi-translucent holly berries. They are supposedly very nutritious, so eat up!

In bloom, in its full scraggly and shapeless glory.
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Here you can see the silvery underside of the leaves.
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Last but not least, the fruit.
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