Do the deer dare? YES!
Many professional landscape designers have problems finding deer resistant plants for clients- for the simple fact that there are none. The only way for a plant to become deer resistant is if the deer themselves choose not to eat it.
A perfect example is the Acer palmatum senkaki, also know as the Coral Bark Maple, 'Sango-Kaku'.
Our foreman Jesse Golden went out to Sharon, Mass today to take a picture of this plant that is commonly known for being "deer resistant" with its newly engraved deer markings.
Forest Farms.com lists the Coral Bark Maple as a "deer resistant" plant
Almost Eden Plants.com lists the same plant as "Deer Resistance: Sometimes Bothered"
Green Thumb Garden Center has a "Deer Resistant Plant" list with a caption saying, "Please note that very few plants are fully deer proof! Our Deer resistant list should be used only as a reference. Indicated below are some of the plants that we have found to be unattractive to the deer in gardens in and around the Nanaimo area. Keep in mind, that Deer feeding patterns are affected by other factors such as, drought, overpopulation , loss of habitat , snow, and presence of dogs." Included in this list is the Coral Bark Maple.
Another interesting way of categorizing a deer resistant plant is seen in an Online Plant Enclyclopedia. Aside from the usual categories of soil quality, sun exosure, etc that are needed for knowledge on a plant; two other categories are added, "Deer Resistance" and "Poisonous to Deer". The answers range- Deer Resistance can either be 'Almost Never Eaten' or 'Sometimes Eaten'. Poisonous to Deer is either 'Generally Not', 'Mildly', or 'Severly'.
Basically- the major factor that affects whether a plant will remain deer resistant or not is independent from the plant species (or how it's categorized), and depends on the deer! Each deer has varying habits including different nutritional needs and plant likes and dislikes. These factors combined with seasonal factors, such as weather conditions and the availability of alternative foods will determine if a plant or shrub remains as 'deer resistant' as one may promise.
The inspiration for writing about the relationship between deer and plants was an article called "Don't Eat the Garden: Surviving in a World of Dangerous Greens". A well written article that revisits the many dangerous plants that may live in our yards and be within reach of our children. As a reminder to us all about how common plants may be dangerous to children, I wanted to look a bit further into who else plants could be dangerous to. With that thought process I came to writing with a focus on the lack of actual "deer resistant" plants- more along the lines of how dangerous deer can be to our gardens and yards.