Deer-resistant plants

The intrusion of unbridled development into an area that has hosted four-footed wildlife for millennia has inevitably escalated tensions between gardeners and hungry critters. Here are some plants that deer seem to dislike.

Datura or angel’s trumpet (Datura inoxia and D. metel) is the annual form of a family of deadly plants best known as the source of the drug scopolamine, a fact apparently not lost on most deer. The trumpet-shaped flowers are large, white (or sometimes purple) and sweet-smelling, though the plants themselves have an unpleasant, foxy odor. Single- and double-flowered cultivars are available. Another member of the tribe is jimson weed (D. stramonium), with off-white flowers but ill-smelling foliage. Remember, despite their beauty, these are very dangerous plants: All parts are poisonous, though the seeds are the worst.

Two years ago a huge, blooming datura sat on the small, landscaped patch of ground to the left of the Mission St. Joseph’s campus. From a respectable distance, it’s such a beautiful sight that most folks never even cotton to the plant’s disagreeable properties.

Datura is often found at nurseries, and if fertilized in a timely manner (every three weeks or so), it will triumphantly bloom in a large pot until fall frosts cut it down.

The biennial sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) has been adorning gardens for centuries, often flowering the first year if the seed is started in late winter or very early spring. A member of the pink family, it is pleasantly fragrant and does great as a cut flower.

The biennial foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) blooms on 3-foot-tall stems crowded with dozens of pouchlike white, cerise or pink flowers of great beauty. Once in your garden, they re-seed with ease. These plants are the source of the heart stimulant digitalis and apparently, the drug is just as dangerous to deer, who give this plant a wide berth.

Blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella), a native annual named in honor of colorful Indian blankets, is originally from the Southeast and Mexico. It produces daisylike blossoms of yellow, orange, red or yellow with reddish bands on stems up to 20 inches tall. It tolerates a variety of conditions, making it great for the bed or border.

Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) is a sweet-smelling tropical perennial from Peru, though it’s usually grown as an annual. Often used in making perfume, it’s been popular in summer gardens for centuries. Plants up to 2 feet high bear myriads of small, intensely fragrant flowers (usually violet or purple, though pastels and whites are also available). These plants need good soil and plenty of sun.

The polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) hails from Madagascar. Long popular as a houseplant for its large oval leaves, liberally spotted with tiny pink dots (or sometimes white, in cultivars), it also features small purple flowers. These plants do well in average but well-drained garden soil and can be dug up in the fall and moved indoors to bring a bit of color to a gray winter.

The morning glories (Ipomoea purpurea) so resented by deer are annual (or, rarely, perennial) twiners that bear three-part leaves and very showy flowers. These may be 4 inches or more in width, and they come in colors ranging from purple and white to red, blue and pink. Some are also streaked and striped, and this genus includes the Imperial Japanese morning glories. These plants will also do well in pots, asking only for strings to climb.

Limonium (Limonium spp.) is a large family of plants, also called sea lavender, bearing clusters of tiny flowers, each surrounded with bright, papery wraps set on 2-foot stems. They are fine in bouquets and dried arrangements. Three species are commonly sold — often interchanged — and usually as annuals, so it’s best just to look for statice. Colors run the gamut, with red and orange very popular.

Flax (Linum usitatissimum), originally from Asia, now grows in much of North America. Early settlers and the textile industry used the plant as a source of fiber for cloth and as a seed crop for manufacturing linseed oil. The plant contains a cyanidelike compound, and the oil is said to be an emetic and a purgative.

[Peter Loewer, aka The Wild Gardener, is a regular contributor to Xpress.]

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