I have a shrub/small tree in my garden, several actually, that should require a warning label, something like ‘Do not plant within 100 feet of your house or stable or shed or pig sty, or any structure whatsoever, or within reach of children, pets, prize goldfish, or any living thing to which you are even mildly attached.  Moreover, do not buy this devious, insidious transgressor in the first place, no matter what the nursery label may claim, nor accept it as a gift from a ‘well meaning’ friend, undocumented acquaintance, or unscrupulous purveyor of ‘garden’ plants.

It does not belong in the company of respectable shrubbery.  It devours gardens.  This is the Russian Olive, and true to its name it comes from the steppes of Siberia, as well as other dry, hard landscapes of Asia—places where little else grows.  But let it loose in your gentle Southern garden of gardenias and camellias and you will learn soon enough what hell nature hath wrought upon your unsuspecting trust.

Going by the unassuming name of Elaeagnus angustifolia, the Russian Olive should be called Putin’s Revenge, a seemingly unassuming shrub with persistent green leaves that hide their foreboding gray undersides from view.  But turn the leaf over, take a look.  Light gray?  Don’t buy it.  You could try poisoning it, but I doubt anything would affect it.

Yeltsin lived to regret Putin, the KGB spy who has undermined Russia’s hopes for democracy and perhaps world peace as well, as I have lived to regret the Putin in my garden.

By Jere French