Native Wild Deer Diet

by Susanne Ruggles with a quote from The Economist.

In “The Economist” June 8, 2002, “A Biting Response” it says.

“Gardeners understand the virtue of pruning. Cutting back the lanky stems of a prized shrub leads not only to a smaller bush; it also reinvigorates the whole plant, thickening it up as side branches are stimulated into growth. Other species of mammal prune plants too–albeit as a side effect of eating them. Deer, for instance, often browse trees and shrubs, biting off twigs to eat. This is sometimes observed to have the same effect as artificial pruning. In particular certain species of tree in northern climates seem to produce more shoots in regions where they are browsed by elk. This enhancement of growth is more than just the result of animal cutting and tearing. The real stimulus lies in the saliva. Dr. Margareta Bergman, did her experiments on sallow saplings. “She divided her plants into three groups. One group had no treatment. A second had the top branches torn off to mimic the biting action of an elk. The third group suffered the same indignity but, in addition, had elk saliva painted on to the torn surfaces. After 15 weeks the changes were dramatic.

Compared with untreated sallows, cutting on its own produced a 20% increase in the number of new branches grown. Sallows cut and treated with saliva, however, grew 110% more branches. Which component of the saliva has this beneficent effect remains to be determined, as does its precise action, but it is probably another case of chemical co-evolution between plants and their herbivorous predators.”

Whitetail deer can subsist entirely on native plant foods. They eat twigs, grasses, leaves, bark, the fruits and nuts of native plants, lichens and other fungi including mushrooms. They eat young green leaves and shoots.

Deer eat shoots and roots in winter. Forest fires are actually good for them because the sun gets to the soil and encourages the growth that is good for deer, like grasses, cedar trees, berries, oaks, maple, and Arctostophylus. We are creating a problem because we are providing Hostas and other non native plants that are the deer equivalent of ice cream and candy. We are not seeing sickness as a result of this non natural diet because the average life expectancy of a deer on Long Island is only two to three years whereas in the wild they can live much, much longer. If we left the native plant material in place – their birthright – instead of bulldozing everything native and replacing it with lawns, topiaries, and weeping cherry trees, nature would take care of itself.

The following list of native plants that support deer was extracted from a list of preferred deer food by season. This is not by any means, a complete list of the native plants with which deer and other local native wildlife have co-evolved. I have provided the Latin names to reduce any confusion between the native form and non-native cultivars.

SPRING
Trees

  • Red Maple – Acer Rubrum
  • Sassafrass Albidum

Shrubs

  • Lespedeza
  • Serviceberry – Amalanchier canadense
  • Willow – Salix Nigra
  • Blueberry – High Bush and Low Bush – Vaccinium
  • Bigleaf Gallberry – Ilex Glabra
  • Groundcovers
  • Clover – Trifolium repens
  • Teaberry – Wintergreen – Gaultheria procumbens
  • Trailing arbutus – Epigea repens
  • Wild Strawberry – Fragaria Vesca
  • Trefoils – Desmodium

Wildflowers

  • Aster
  • Pokeweed
  • Jewel Weed – Impatiens Capensis
  • New Jersey Tea – Ceonothus Americanus

Grasses

  • Big Bluestem – Andropogon gerardii
  • Little Bluestem – Schizacyrium Scoparium
  • Tall Dropseed – Sporobulus Asper
  • Alfalfa Grass – Medicago sativa L.

Other

  • Poison Ivy

SUMMER

Trees

  • Red Maple – Acer Rubrum
  • Striped Maple – Acer Pensylvanicum
  • Dogwood – Cornus Florida,
  • Sassafrass
  • Chestnut Oak – Quercus Prinus
  • Crabapple – Malus Coronaria
  • Sumac – Rhus

Shrubs

  • Blueberry – Vaccinum
  • Blackberry – Rubus occidentalis
  • Cornus Racemosa,
  • Elderberry – Sambucus
  • Wild rose

Groundcovers

  • Cornus Canadensis
  • Ferns

Wildflowers

  • Jewel weed – Impatiens Capensis
  • Aster
  • Pokeweed – (my favorite plant)

Other

  • Mushrooms

WINTER

Trees

  • Red Maple
  • Witch Hazel – Hamamellis
  • Sumac
  • Willow
  • Yellow birch
  • Atlantic White Cedar
  • Easter Red Cedar
  • Sassafrass

Shrubs

  • Blueberry
  • Lespedeza
  • Wild Rose

Groundcovers

  • Wintergreen – Gaultheria
  • Bearberry – Arctostophylus

Wildflowers

  • Aster
  • Goldenrod

Other

  • Poison Ivy

AUTUMN

Trees

  • Acorns – from Oak Trees
  • Blackgum – Nyssa Sylvatica
  • Sassafrass
  • Witch Hazel – Hamamellis
  • Sumac – Rhus Typhina
  • Oak – Quercus Alba, Quercus Rubra
  • Wild Cherry – Prunus Serotina

Shrubs

  • Lespedeza (a gorgeous, pink-flowering,
  • fall-blooming shrub)
  • Blueberry
  • Coralberry – Symphoricarpus orbiculatus
  • Wild Rose
  • Elderberry – Sambucus
  • Red Raspberry

Wildflowers

  • Honeysuckle Vine – Lonicera sempervirens
  • Aster
  • Goldenrod – Solidago – many interesting varieties

Groundcovers

  • Sweet Fern – Comptonia
  • Wintergreen – Gaultheria procumbens

Other

  • Mushrooms