Once upon a time, Solomon’s Seal Polygonatum biflorum, dangled its creamy bell-like blooms all over this forest. Then came Bush Honeysuckle and deep shade. Even then Solomon’s Seal bloomed along the trail where light could reach it. Then came deer and no more flowers. Like discerning foodies seeking the perfect meal, whitetails parse the forest floor and they don’t miss much. A better common name for Solomon’s Seal would be “Deer Asparagus” (it’s closely related).
If you’re a plant in the top 10 on the deer “preferred” list, things are not going well for you. But I want to see Solomon’s Seal bloom in this forest. The battle of wits between human and herbivore begins again, and my deer exclusion architecture must go to a new level. No more little piles of sticks; something more structural is needed. On the hillside in the pic above I found a lot of sturdy, decay resistant Black locust limbs. They interlocked nicely, forming a solidly balanced structure that doesn’t look out of place. This one is rather minimal and would need more work to really protect a Solomon’s Seal patch.
Observing how deer behave as they move through the forest is helpful – when I see them standing in the middle of a seemingly impervious brush pile it’s time to get more creative! Thinking like a deer is key; would I jump into the midst of these tangled branches and risk breaking a leg for the sake of a few tasty plants? The structure below works so well because it’s anchored around a tree and large fallen limbs that were already in place.
This sturdy shelter contains a nice little patch of plants with two years of no bite-offs. Many of the plants have now stored enough energy to produce flowers, and I hope to share them in a future post. Healthy patches expand, so the shelter will need to as well. The idea of protecting plants that are already growing here came to me when I saw some young Sassafras trees thriving inside a thorny Multiflora Rose thicket. The little trees around it that were easy to get to all had their heads bit off.
If you walk through this forest you’ll see many brush structures, so a question I get asked a lot is: what are all those stick piles for? I love to explain, since people don’t always realize the impact whitetails have on forests. The population density here is high and growing, (two more fawns per doe every spring) and deer “management” in our metro area is unlikely. If whitetails continue to eat all the desirables, the flora of this forest will become more and more depauperate, and plants like poisonous White Snakeroot will cover most of the forest floor.
Is it obsessive to build these things all over the place? Maybe – but as it turns out, brush structures are also great habitat and beloved by birds, small mammals, snakes and Box turtles. They help substitute for the shrubby native understory that will take some years to recover after Bush honeysuckle removal. And of course I can’t fence in every patch of tasty wildflowers – I can only hope to create some “islands of diversity” in between the deer trails!