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Desert Diary
Plants/Russian Olive


Many of the weeds that bedevil inhabitants of our desert are courtesy of the Old World, introduced inadvertently or by misguided purpose. That symbol of the West, the Tumbleweed, is actually a 19th century immigrant from Russia. And who along the waterways is unfamiliar with that water thief, the all too plentiful Salt Cedar?

Yet, not all introductions to the Southwestern scene have been utter disasters. One with positive as well as negative aspects is the Russian Olive, a native of southern Europe eastward into Asia. A shrub or small tree, it's widely cultivated as an ornamental. In the northern part of the Chihuahuan Desert, it has escaped into Rio Grande river-bottom habitats.

Though somewhat of a pest in parts of its introduced range, there are some saving graces. Its silvery-green foliage contrasts beautifully with the varied lighter greens of native riparian vegetation, accent marks enhancing the riverine scene. Fruits for wildlife food and nectar for honeybees are additional pluses. If the new kid in the neighborhood has a few rough edges, it at least also bears gifts.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.