Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

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

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
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 Deer Resistant Questions

Resourses that are being taken away - Tiffin OH
April 03, 2013 - What are resources that are being taken away from humans and organisms?
view the full question and answer

Deer resistant plants from New Braunfels TX
August 31, 2012 - I have a 1/2 yard covered by a tree, shady. Bermuda grass previous owner planted has all turned brown this summer. I don't have lots of money to work with but would love to landscape that side of fr...
view the full question and answer

Safely killing Paedeeria cruddasiana Prain (sewer vine)
October 27, 2005 - Is there anyway to safely kill Paederia cruddasiana Prain (sewer vine)? Thank you!
view the full question and answer

Deer-resistant native plants for privacy fence in Bandera, TX
March 24, 2008 - I am trying to have a living privacy fence of some type of evergreen shrubs that would grow about 6ft tall and that would be deer resistant. It would be good if didn't need a lot of maintenance. Do y...
view the full question and answer

Deer Damage to Pencil Holly in Michigan
March 15, 2011 - I have 5 sky pencil holly bushes that are about 3 feet tall each..they don't grow very fast. I was looking forward to them reaching the 7 feet mark one day, as they are going to serve as a screen be...
view the full question and answer

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