En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
1 rating

Monday - December 07, 2009

From: Seattle, WA
Region: Northwest
Topic: Deer Resistant, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Why is Rhus aromatica more deer resistant from Seattle
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have a large area that I would like to cover with Rhus aromatica. My landscaper says that in his experience, Rhus typhina and glabra in this area are heavily browsed by deer. I noticed in your database that Rhus aromatica is rated "high" in terms of deer resistance. The other species of Rhus are not rated. Is there a chemical difference between the two plants that would make one more deer resistant than the other?

ANSWER:

Your landscaper is correct, both Rhus typhina (staghorn sumac) and Rhus glabra (smooth sumac) are heavily browsed by deer.  If you will notice in the introduction to the Deer-Resistant Species list you mentioned, deer tend to avoid aromatic plants. One of the common names of Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac) is "Polecat Bush." We have no personal experience with the plant, but we have heard that some believe it just plain stinks. 

There are two problems there: If the deer are hungry enough because of loss of habitat, drought or other reasons, they will hold their noses and eat anything. The second problem is that Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac) is native nowhere farther west than Missouri. At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, we are dedicated to the use, care and propagation of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which they are being grown. We are not sure how the conditions in Washington differ from the eastern part of the United States, but it is a strong indicator that the plant would not prosper there and, in fact, might not even be commercially available there. Rhus typhina (staghorn sumac) shares the same area of nativity, and is probably not viable in Washington, either. Only Rhus glabra (smooth sumac) is native to Washington, and, in fact, is the only sumac native to all 48 contiguous states. 

Sumacs often form dense thickets, spreading from underground runners, and are difficult to eliminate once they become established. Even if you could obtain and grow the Rhus aromatica, you might not enjoy a strong-smelling, heavily overgrown field all that much.

If we might make an alternate suggestion, deer do not seem to care much for grasses. There are six grasses on the Deer-Resistent Species list that are native to Washington.  We are going to list them, and you can follow each link to find out more about the appearance and sun requirements of the grasses. 

Deer-resistant grasses native to Washington:

Aristida purpurea (purple threeawn)

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)

Elymus canadensis (Canada wildrye)

Eleocharis rostellata (beaked spikerush) - pictures

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)

Typha latifolia (broadleaf cattail)

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Aristida purpurea

Bouteloua curtipendula

Elymus canadensis

Schizachyrium scoparium

Typha latifolia

 

 

 

 

More Trees Questions

Shade trees not toxic to dogs in Kempner TX
August 21, 2013 - Dear Mr Smarty Plants, we are looking for shade trees to plant around our home in Kempner, Tx. I saw another family that asked a similar question but we have dogs and holly or oak trees are toxic (my...
view the full question and answer

Different kinds of plants living in subarctic areas
March 10, 2008 - What are the different kinds of plants live in the subarctic areas?
view the full question and answer

Screening Suggestions in Brooklyn, NY
March 08, 2013 - My neighbor directly in back of me has shrubs that are growing all over my fence. Also his 9-foot-tall shed facing me is rusted. What can I do to improve my view so that I can enjoy my backyard more?
view the full question and answer

Privacy Trees for New Jersey
March 02, 2011 - My neighbor elevated a row of white pine between our houses at least 20 feet high leaving me with NO privacy and a row of ugly lollipops. What trees can I plant that will be fast growing and deer resi...
view the full question and answer

An evergreen, deer-resistant shrub for Memphis
July 24, 2013 - I need an evergreen, deep to partial shade, deer resistant shrub or tree. Does such a plant exist?
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center