Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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?


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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Saturday - April 27, 2013

From: Urbandale, IA
Region: Midwest
Topic: Deer Resistant, Drought Tolerant, Grasses or Grass-like, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Deer resistant native plants for Eagle Scout project in Urbandale IA
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Mr. Smarty Plants, My son is planning his Eagle Scout Project doing some landscaping for the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary. The facility has asked him to use only plants native to Iowa. Can you suggest some native Iowa plants that can take all day sun, are drought tolerant, deer resisitant and will provide all season color? We are looking for mostly plants about 2 feet and under. Thanks.


We are honored to participate in a small way in this project. As you may know, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants, is committed to the growth, propagation and propagation of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which they are being grown; in your case, Polk and Dallas Counties, Iowa.

There are two ways we can choose Iowa native plants for your son's project. The first is to go to our Native Plant Database and, scrolling down the page to the Combination Search, select Iowa for State, "all" for Habits, "sun" for Light Requirements, "dry" for Soil Moisture and 1-3 ft. for Height. When we ran this search, we got 104 results which, because of the height restriction, gave us mostly "herbs" (herbaceous blooming plants) and a few shrubs and grasses. This, however, is no measure of deer resistance. We do have a Deer Resistant Species List, for all of North America. Please read this disclaimer at the top of that list:

"Deer Resistant Species

Few plants are completely deer resistant. Several factors influence deer browsing including the density of the deer population, environmental conditions such as drought, and plant palatability. Deer tend to avoid plants with aromatic foliage, tough leathery and/or hairy or prickly leaves or plants with milky latex or sap. Try using some of the plants listed here to minimize deer damage to your landscape."

We are going to go back to that list and sort it exactly as we did on the Combination Search. This list has only 15 results, which is pretty disappointing, but we're not finished yet. We still need to follow the links on that list to our webpage on each plant to determine if they are highly deer resistant or only minimally resistant. AND we need to check the USDA Plant Profile Map on each plant to see if it is native to your part of Iowa. Plus, we are pretty sure you don't want Opuntia macrorhiza (Common prickly-pear) on the property. Also, Linum rigidum (Stiffstem flax) and Penstemon cobaea (Wild foxglove) are listed  as having "minimal" deer resistance. Below is a list of the other 12 with their level of deer resistance and the area in Iowa where they are native. Pictures from our Image Gallery are at the bottom of the page.

Aristida purpurea (Purple threeawn) - highly resistant, native to northwest Iowa

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed) highly resistant, close to Dallas Co.

Bouteloua curtipendula (Sideoats grama) highly resistant, Polk Co.

Carex blanda (Eastern woodland sedge) highly resistant, near Polk Co.

Croton monanthogynus (Prairie tea) highly resistant, native only in Monona Co.

Gaillardia pulchella (Firewheel) moderately resistant, no info from USDA

Monarda fistulosa (Wild bergamot) highly resistant, close to Dallas Co.

Oenothera speciosa (Pink evening primrose) highly resistant, no info from USDA

Ratibida columnifera (Mexican hat) highly resistant, Polk Co.

Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed susan) highly resistant, close to Polk Co.

Solidago nemoralis (Gray goldenrod) highly resistant, close to Dallas Co.

Verbesina encelioides (Cowpen daisy) highly resistant, no info from USDA

Of course, if you want to broaden your list, you must decide which characteristic desired could be eliminated. You could go back to the complete list of Iowa native plants and rerun it after eliminating the "deer resistance" or "dry soil" or even height of 1-3 ft. to locate more species. Only your son can make those decisions, together with the owners of the property he is working on.

There could be other plants, particularly grasses, that are native to Iowa but have not yet made it into our database. Grasses are largely avoided by deer, although they will eat nearly anything when times are hard. We suggest you contact the Extension Office for either Polk or Dallas County, whichever is most convenient, for help on grasses.


From the Image Gallery

Purple threeawn
Aristida purpurea

Asclepias tuberosa

Sideoats grama
Bouteloua curtipendula

Eastern woodland sedge
Carex blanda

Prairie tea
Croton monanthogynus

Indian blanket
Gaillardia pulchella

Wild bergamot
Monarda fistulosa

Pink evening primrose
Oenothera speciosa

Mexican hat
Ratibida columnifera

Black-eyed susan
Rudbeckia hirta

Gray goldenrod
Solidago nemoralis

Cowpen daisy
Verbesina encelioides

More Drought Tolerant Questions

Need a drought resistant, maintenance free tree in Thomasville, GA.
April 20, 2012 - I have been through many tree forums and asked several nurseries about a good tree to plant but nobody has provided an adequate answer and I hope you can help. I live in SW Georgia (Zone 8) and need ...
view the full question and answer

Drought-tolerant plants for landscaping
November 13, 2007 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, Our HOA is wanting to change the landscaping to Drought-tolerant plants and flowers. The area is Grayson County, south of Sherman Texas. What plants and flowers would you su...
view the full question and answer

Plants for a sunny, sandy site in Central Texas
January 22, 2015 - I live between La Grange and Schulenburg, Texas. My soil is sandy. Full sun, no trees. I am a senior citizen with limited funds who is allergic to Rye and Bermuda grass. I tried planting a lawn of...
view the full question and answer

Groundcover and Butterfly attractants for LaRue Texas
May 02, 2012 - LaRue, TX - Would like a native low growing plant as a groundcover. I would like it for six+ hours of sun, drought tolerant, and ones that butterflies might enjoy, while deer won't. Some winter int...
view the full question and answer

Water eroding corner in Austin
October 25, 2011 - I live close to the Wildflower Center. My yard slopes - as do my neighbors' yards to one corner in my yard. The result is constant moisture in one corner. The rest of the yard is caliche, rocks (m...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.