Plant Portuguese Hero autumn olive in almost any soil where it will get full sun

August 25, 2021

In the state of Maine in the early 20th century, an immigrant named Giovanni Amato began selling huge sandwiches filled with cold cuts, cheese and vegetables on crusty rolls. The big sandwiches were called heroes, and at the beginning of WWI, these sandwiches were sold to Navy servicemen from the shipyards, which gave them the now-common name submarine sandwich.”

Some foods such as olives are heroes. The benefits of olive oil are well known, but unfortunately real olives (Olea europaea) need a tropical climate and years to produce fruits.

Now there is a garden plant that is itself a hero, the Portuguese Super Hero autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). They are hardy in USDA Zones 3-8.

This is not only a wonderful ornamental but has loads of flavorful fruit rich in nutrients. The fruits are a good source of essential fatty acids, which is unusual for a fruit.

You can make the fruit into jelly, pancake syrup, and even wine. The plant even feeds nitrogen into the soil.

Autumn olives are vigorous bushes that grow up to 15 feet tall and equally wide. In early summer the bushes are covered with richly fragrant, yellow-white flowers. 

These flowers are followed by loads of tasty fruit in early fall. The fruit is rich in lycopene.

All autumn olives can be invasive, especially in areas of the country that have warm and wet summers. Plant Portuguese Hero autumn olive in almost any soil where it will get full sun.

The plants take nitrogen out of the air and release it into the ground through a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria that lives in their roots. 

This improves the fertility of the surrounding soils.

You can plant autumn olives among other trees that will benefit from the added nitrogen. The small, trumpet-shaped flowers have four petals each and are borne in clusters of four to six blossoms. The flowers give way to bunches of bright-red fruit in late summer. 

The fruits are a half-inch or less in diameter, and have specks of silvery scales. As time goes by, the fruits can darken slightly and appear almost brown. Each fruit has a single seed.

This shrub has silvery leaves that are attractive all season. Each leaf is two to four inches long and pale green on top with silver undersides.

The plants are self-fertile, so you will get fruit even if you only plant one bush. Plants are available from Raintree Nurseries (

Plant Portuguese Hero autumn olives and you will be a hero to your garden. Cold cuts not included.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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