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What Is Elaeagnus?

Most plants in the Elaeagnus genus are native to the tropical parts of Asia.
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  • Written By: Alex Paul
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 19 December 2014
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Elaeagnus is a genus of plant that contains around 70 species. All the species included in the genus are flowering plants and most are native to Asia. There are, however, certain species that are found elsewhere such as Australia and North America. Although the plants are important for wildlife and provide a nesting place for many birds they are also seen as pest species in some regions. Examples of elaeagnus plants include E. Umbellata and E. Pungens.

The vast majority of plants contained in the genus are found in the tropical parts of Asia. There is one species native to North America, one to Asia and one to Europe although there is still some debate as to where this last species originally came from. Although its true name is elaeagnus, the genus is also sometimes called Oleaster or Silverberry.

Plants in the elaeagnus genus are either shrubs or small trees. There are both evergreen and deciduous species. Most examples of plants in the elaeagnus genus have leaves covered by scales that gives them a brown appearance. Although the plants do flower, the flowers are usually small and don’t have a smell. The plants are most popular in China where they have been grown for many years but are becoming more popular around the world.

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The fruit of plants in the elaeagnus genus is usually fleshy and contains a seed. Many species, but not all, have edible fruit. For this reason, some of the species are specifically grown to harvest around the world. This is sometimes because the plant’s fruit has a sweet taste and sometimes for medicinal purposes.

Some species are seen as invasive in parts of the world. For example, in North America certain species require a large amount of care and pruning and make it difficult for native plants to survive nearby. There are two species that are rated in the second category of invasive species in the U.S. Due to the thorns of the shrubs the plants are good for wildlife, however, and some gardeners enjoy using the plants to provide a habitat for local birds to safely nest in.

There is some evidence that some species of the genus could be used in the fight against cancer. This is due to the large amount of antioxidants that are contained within some of the plants fruit. There are also species that are used in Chinese alternative medicine. For example, E. Mutiflora is used as both a medicine and for food.

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