Russian olive trees: a cautionary tale |

Russian olive trees: a cautionary tale

by Amy Roby

A number of silvery-leafed Russian olive trees grow in our backyard. They were there when my husband and I moved into our house 20 years ago and in spite of our relative indifference to them over that time, several have grown to significant heights.

Although drought tolerant and hardy, Russian olive trees have troublesome issues and are considered invasive in many areas across the western United States. They can easily overtake a space and prevent other vegetation from establishing. Trimming them often just leads to the development of more “volunteer” shoots. Heavy branches have a tendency to break under pressure from strong winds. Perhaps most bothersome to me, however, are the long, thorny spines that jut along the tree’s branches.

One encounter with a Russian olive and you’ll learn to always wear protective gear: a long sleeved shirt, pants, heavy-duty gloves, and glasses or goggles are all necessary when working around them. No matter how careful I am while attempting to prune one of these trees, however, I usually come into unwelcome contact with its barbs.

This past weekend, Scott and I were working on the removal of a sizable Russian olive limb that snapped during the recent windstorms. After we took out the bulk of debris, I went back in with bypass loppers to clear some extra branches from the tree.

As I moved around the trunk, an excruciating pain suddenly shot through my foot. A spike from one of the cut branches pierced all the way through my thick-soled sneaker and punctured the area between the ball of my foot and my big toe. I pulled my foot from the branch as quickly as I’d stepped down on it; the searing pain was enough to make my eyes water.

I hobbled inside to clean the wound and it became clear that more advanced treatment was needed. One tetanus shot and halfway through an antibiotic prescription later, my foot is on the mend and I’m in the market for a new pair of puncture-resistant yard work shoes.

Life doesn’t always go the way we’ve planned, and we’re bound to get stuck every once in a while. Current circumstances present a unique opportunity to consider the ways in which we care for the world around us and for each other. Part of this process includes pausing to take care of ourselves, remembering we have one another to lean on for support, and clearing the space for a new path forward, in spite of the snags we may encounter along the way.

Amy Roby can be reached at