Goumi Vs Autumn Olive – An age old question of the permaculture obsessed gardener.
Both the Goumi and Autumn Olive plants are members of the ‘Elaeagnaceae’ family, with both making incredibly useful additions to any self-respecting garden – Especially if you’re taking an Organic approach to things.
Tracing their origins to East Asia, these little known fruiting plants have huge untapped potential in the West, both as ornamental and food producing specimens.
We’re currently trialling them as productive nitrogen fixers within our polyculture Fruit & Nut orchards and, although early days, have had some promising early success.
Although commonly confused for each other, there are some key differences to take into account when deciding which of these fantastic plants are right for you.
Throughout this article we’ll take a look at these differences in a little more detail, hopefully lending a bit of clarity to the Goumi Vs Autumn Olive debate and helping you make an informed decision on which is right for you.
So without further ado, let’s get into it.
Goumi Vs Autumn Olive – Growth Habits
Goumi (Elaeagnus multiflora)
The Goumi is a hardwood shrub growing to a final height of around 6-8ft, with a similar spread. It grows quickly and is incredibly adaptable when it comes to the surrounding environment, growing happily in poor soils, polluted air and coastal regions.
This plucky little plant is similarly easy-going when it comes to placement, thriving in either full-sun or partial shade. We have not grown Goumi in full-shade ourselves, however given it’s track record wouldn’t bet against it surviving in even the gloomiest of spots.
Similarly to many of its Elaeagnus cousins, the Goumi is what’s known as a ‘Nitrogen Fixer’. Plants with this ability sequester nitrogen from the surrounding air, secreting it into the adjacent soil through a symbiotic relationship with its surrounding microbial life.
This nitrogen fixing ability makes Goumi a perfect companion to hungrier plants such as Fruit & Nut trees, reducing and perhaps even eliminating the reliance on additional fertilisers.
Lastly, Goumi is not listed as an invasive species, a key difference between it and the Autumn Olive. Introduction of invasive species can be highly detrimental to the surrounding ecosystem (Ask a British Red Squirrel what he thinks of his grey cousin for some proof of this), and so we should always be careful when introducing new, perhaps unknown plants to our area.
Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)
While also a hardwood shrub, the Autumn Olive grows noticeably larger and more vigorously than it’s cousin the Goumi, growing to a final height of around 12-18ft.
It is similarly unfussy when it comes to growing conditions. It will thrive across the same range of poor soils, extreme temperatures, within deep shade and in coastal areas.
Again mirroring the Goumi, Autumn Olive is also a very capable nitrogen fixer. Due to its larger size the Autumn Olive may provide more nitrogen fixation to the surrounding area, however I have seen no studies which definitively demonstrate this.
Unlike the Goumi however, Autumn Olive is classed as an invasive species in many parts of the world. Seeds from its large crops of attractive berries are spread very quickly by local bird populations, and resulting Autumn Olive seedlings often find very little trouble in out-competing local flora which may not thrive on poor soils to the same extent.
Although we have had no trouble thus far with our Autumn Olive plants, we do harvest the vast majority of our berries. Be sure to check your local guidance on this before considering planting Autumn Olive, and if you don’t intend to harvest the resulting berries – Keep an eye out for seedlings springing up in the vicinity and thin as is necessary.
- Both are capable nitrogen fixers.
- Autumn Olive grows larger (12-18ft) / Goumi smaller (6-8ft).
- Autumn Olive is often considered Invasive.
Goumi Vs Autumn Olive – Yield & Fruit
Goumi (Elaeagnus multiflora)
Goumi bushes produce heavy yields of uniquely silver-speckled, scarlet red berries, looking something like a slightly elongated cherry. When in fruit, the Goumi berries hang in clusters from their branches.
They will need to be protected from local wildlife, as we’ve found birds in our area are more than happy to strip a bush clean in no time at all. How polite.
The Goumi berries themselves are quite tart if picked prior to peak ripeness, which in the Uk happens around mid-late July. If you catch them at just the right time however they’re a wonderful mixture of tart & sweet, perfect for jams, pies or homespun fruit-leather.
We’d advise tasting for sweetness as the season goes on, as the taste really develops if given the time to do so.
The seeds are pretty large for a berry of its size, and actually make quite good eating. They’re packed with protein, while the surrounding fruit is particularly high in Vitamins A, C & E, as well as the antioxidant ‘Lycopene’.
Not just delicious, but nutritious too.
Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)
The Autumn Olive produces even heavier yields than the Goumi, however the berries themselves are usually far smaller. Cultivars are available with both bigger, and better tasting berries – but we’ve found them to always be on the diminutive side when compared to their Goumi cousins.
You’ll notice that the Autumn Olive produces its berries in more concentrated clusters which cling closely to the branch – a noticeably different fruiting pattern to that of the Goumi.
They are however also highly prized by local wildlife, so be sure to take precautions if you want to see any of your crop come harvesting time.
The berries themselves usually ripen around mid-Autumn in our climate, however this is a gradual process usually spanning a couple of weeks. As with the Goumi it pays to sample for taste as the season progresses, as the flavour follows a similar path from astringent towards sweet at peak ripeness.
Although we love our Autumn Olive berries and use them readily in jams, the flavour is not on a par with the Goumi, which is a more refined, sweeter experience.
On the other hand however; They do contain a very similar nutrient profile, grow larger and more readily, and produce noticeably larger crops – While still having a very good flavour profile.
I suppose it’s a matter of choice as to which suits your needs better. Personally, we choose both.
- Both produce ample yields – Autumn Olive generally more productive.
- Both produce nutrient rich, delicious berries ideal for Jams, Leathers & Cooking – Goumi generally has the superior flavour profile.
- Goumi produces larger individual berries.
Goumi Vs Autumn Olive – Propagation
We’ve noticed little difference in propagating both Goumi & Autumn Olive, and so figured a combined section would make the most sense here.
For us, Layering has been the most reliable approach to propagation. This is a very simple method of propagation which basically entails pinning down a limb of your shrub to the ground, then covering it with some form of organic material. The now semi-buried buds will eventually develop into roots, allowing you to separate the now two, independent plants.
Next, rooting cuttings has brought us intermittent success, working best with semi-hardwood lengths. Our success rate has been noticeably lower when compared with layering, however considering how vigorously both Goumi and especially Autumn Olive grow – You won’t be short of wood to choose from.
Finally, growing from seed. It’s said to be notoriously difficult, and although we’ve had a little success, I’d advise either of the two above options if you’re looking for a reliable path towards bundles of free plants.
The casing of both the Goumi and Autumn Olive seed pods are very tough. We’d advise a 24-hour soak and some light scarification to improve chances of germination. Both seeds also have a reasonably long dormancy period which you’ll need to overcome.
If it isn’t the right time of year where you are to allow nature to take care of this, 90-days in a refrigerator should do the trick.
Check your seeds regularly during this period if using the refrigerator method, removing any seeds which begin to germinate and potting up as you would with any other shrub.
- Well suited to Layering if you have plant stock to hand.
- Cuttings can work well if you have access to material, with Semi-Hardwood the best in our experience.
- Growing from Seed can be tricky, with Scarification and a thorough Soak recommended. ~ 90 day Dormancy period to keep in mind.
- The Earth Care Manual: A Permaculture Handbook for Britain and Other Temperate Climate
- Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-scale Permaculture
So there we have it – Goumi Vs Autumn Olive, two fantastic additions to any garden.
Fertilise your surrounding plants while yielding ample crops of delicious, healthy berries which you can’t just pick up on the supermarket shelves. What’s not to love?
I hope this article has been helpful. We’re huge fans of both the Goumi & Autumn Olive here on our little farm and think they’re well worth a shot to those interested.
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Have a great day.