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Deer Resistant Trees – Laurels and Sumac

If you ask one of NLT’s Preserve Managers to name a woody plant that deer don’t browse, they will answer Spicebush (Lindera benzoin).  This member of the Laurel Family (Lauraceae) is a shrub that is very common in Pennsylvania’s forests precisely because deer don’t eat it.  While that makes it “common” in a derogatory way for some, it is beautiful in a yard.  It grows up to 10 feet high (most are about 4 – 6 feet high) and up to two inches in diameter.  This shrub likes shade and will do better under some trees or as a border.  It has delicate yellow flowers in spring, bright red berries in early fall, and aromatic twigs and leaves.  And deer don’t eat it.  (It is worthwhile to review how to protect young plantings.)

MEBUS SassafrasMaritonField1014 Another member of the Laurel Family is Sassafras (Sassafras albidum).  This is one of my favorite trees.  Sassafras is an early succesional species.  It is a small tree growing up to 50 feet.  It likes sun, tolerates a variety of soils, and grows quickly.  Sassafras leaves have multiple shapes, turn bright colors in the fall, and smell wonderful.  Interestingly, I seldom see someone (young or old) walk by a Sassafras without stopping to admire the leaves.  The bark on mature trees is chunky ridges with orange tinges on the edges.  Trees are of one sex, so you need multiple trees to produce the blue fleshy fruit.  These are prone to clone.  So, if you give an individual some room, it will send up several shoots to form a nice little colony.  Both Spicebush and Sassafras are the major food plants for the Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly (worth attracting to your yard).   While deer don’t eat Sassafras, bucks do seek out saplings for rubs.  (Photo by Carole Mebus.)

MEBUS SumacMaritonField1013-2 Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) is a great native shrub that loves sunlight.  This plant is so interesting, that I can’t understand why it doesn’t get used in the landscape.  It is a low gracefully spreading shrub.  Start out with the fuzzy twigs that resemble a buck’s antlers when they are in velvet.  Then consider the compound lacey leaves that turn brilliant red and orange in the fall.  Finally, the fruit persists most of the winter in an upright pyramid cluster of red fuzzy berries.  This is another clone species that will form a cluster of genetically identical individuals if given some space in an open area.  Deer don’t browse this shrub very much, but bucks love to rub the trunk.  One more thing, you don’t get “poison” from a Staghorn Sumac.  (Poison Sumac [Toxicodendron vernix or Rhus vernix] grows mostly in wet inaccessible swamps.)  (Photo by Carole Mebus.)


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