Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Strolling Around To Discover Deer Resistant Plants

Big honkin' buck captured by my game cam

I'm frequently asked about deer-resistant plants. A customer who lives on Skidaway Island, Georgia declared that "deer eat absolutely everything" in her yard. (I'm sure they don't, for I've explored Skidaway Island since my youth, and the island is far from denuded.) Of course she wanted to know what deer won't eat.

The first thing anyone needs to understand is that very hungry deer will eat practically anything. They're almost proverbial billy goats. They won't eat tin cans, but goats don't either.

I was on Kiawah Island working on another project. Kiawah is much like Skidaway, so, inspired by her query, I decided to take a stroll to see what plants deer hadn't touched.

Viburnum odoratissimum

The first ornamental shrub I spotted was Viburnum odoratissimum, aka Sweet Viburnum. There was nary a nibble from it. V. odoratissimum is native to Asia. It is evergreen, grows to about 20' high, and as wide, and is at home in USDA climate zones 7-9. I don't know why it was untouched. Perhaps it smells better than it tastes.

Palm frond

Then there were palms. Lots and lots of palms of various species. Some were native; some were not. Palms are wonderful ornamentals, from the lowly Serenoa repens - aka Saw Palmetto - to the stately Roystonea regia - aka Royal Palm. Palms are typically considered to be for tropical to semi-tropical climates, but the Rhapidophyllum hystrix - aka Needle Palm - is cold-hardy to zone 6a. I suppose palms are deemed inedible by deer because they are stringy and hard to chew.

Persea borbonia

Redbay - Persea borbonia - was untouched even though deer reportedly like it. I didn't spy any damaged by ambrosia beetle, either. Redbay isn't often used as an ornamental, but it could be. The leaves are fragrant when crushed. It's a small, evergreen tree. Folks used to use the leaves for seasoning. American Indians used the leaves as a medicine to induce vomiting. I would guess that deer know of that effect, so avoid it unless needing an emetic.

Ilex vomitoria berries

Moseying along, I came upon a stand of native Yaupon holly - aka Ilex vomitoria. It was unmolested, perhaps because it is also a strong emetic. A beverage of the leaves will make you vomit. It appears, however, throughout the South as an ornamental shrub or small tree in compact, multi-stemmed, and weeping forms. The berries are very appealing.

Cycas revoluta

Sago Palm - aka Cycas revoluta - is practically ubiquitous in these parts. It's native to Japan, but you'd think it was native to the Southeastern United States. It's not a palm. It is a cycad, related to the deer-resistant native Zamia integrifolia or Coontie. No wonder deer don't eat it; it's poisonous.

Farfugium japonicum

Farfugium japonicum - aka Ligularia, Ragwort, Leopard plant, Leopard's Bane - has grown in popularity in recent years. It's a fine perennial plant for partial shade to full shade. It was obvious to me that deer don't like it, perhaps because they somehow intuit that the plant contains tumorigenic alkaloids. Glossy, evergreen leaves - sometimes spotted - are gorgeous. The yellow flowers are mighty attractive and daisy-like. It's in the  Asteraceae family.

Juniperus conferta

Soon I spied some juniper ground cover - Shore Juniper (Juniperus conferta). It's an ideal choice for a coastal garden because of its salt-tolerance. Deer will eat junipers, especially Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). You can see evidence of that as you travel along interstate highways. But Shore Juniper has awl-like foliage which can put a hurtin' on the tongue.

Daniella tasmanica

Daniella tasmanica (Variegated Flax Lily) was uneaten. I don't know if it's supposed to be deer-resistant, but it certainly appeared so. It appears with growing frequency in perennial borders.

Cortaderia selloana

Cortaderia selloana, commonly known as pampas grass, was untouched. I understand exactly why. The sharp leaf edges will discourage anyone or thing from intruding. It's a stately grass, and certainly deserving of a place in the large landscape. It tolerates a wide range of temperatures, and is requires very little maintenance. Good thing, too. It's too sharp to handle without gloves, long-sleeves and trousers.

Illicium parviflorum

I saw some Illicium parviflorum - Yellow Star Anise - that had been abused, but not by deer. It's a fine shrub, and grows to a large size. The leaves are fragrant when crushed. Unfortunately, these individuals were planted in a hedge, expected to remain compact, and the foliage had been chopped up by a hedge-trimmer. Large-leaved plants do not look good when eaten up by a hedge-trimmer.

Yucca spp.

Yucca had not been touched. Understandably so. The sharp-pointed and fibrous leaves render it inedible for deer. It's a fine ornament, though, especially when in bloom.

Loropetalum chinense

Loropetalum chinense is a fairly new introduction to the landscaping community. It seems that new ones are released every year. It is known to be deer-resistant. This planting was no exception.

Eleagnus spp.

One of my least favorite landscape shrubs was undisturbed by deer - Eleagnus. I've hated it since I was a child. My mother made me prune hers into large globes, and I swear I could hear them growing as I walked away. I must say, however, that I did enjoy eating the fruits when no one else seemed to care. I've seen Eleagnus planted beside highway overpasses and in cloverleafs, probably to stop runaway traffic. They'll do that, for sure.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) was ignored by hungry deer. Though considered by some folks to be a nuisance vine, it makes a nice ground cover. It also covers stone walls very well. The scarlet fall foliage is gorgeous.

Afternoon shadows were lengthening. It was time for my saunter to end. I hoped that my impromptu discovery hour turned up a few plant choices for my friend to consider.

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