Plants Deer Eat

Mike F. from West Virginia e-mailed to ask about what plants deer eat. “There is a lot of spicebush in the area I hunt. It grows at 3 feet to 6 feet to 8 feet above ground, perfect for deer to browse, but they don’t seem to touch it. Why not?”

Mike, the reason you have a lot of spicebush is because deer do not like it. When you have a lot of spice bush regeneration, that means that you have too many deer. Usually in such areas you have few if any young oak seedlings growing. The reason is that the deer have eaten the oaks. Lots of spice bush to me means, little good deer food in the area.

Dr. Dave Samuel

If you had a big deer exclosure, you’d probably see a lot of young oak seedlings, a variety of wild flowers in the spring, and other hardwood species seedlings. The fact that you only see spice bush means over browsing has occurred. And it also probably means the does should be hammered in that area.

Having said that, there are times when a plant species, such as spicebush, is not eaten in most places, but deer will eat it in other areas. I found this to be true with birdsfoot trefoil … deer wouldn’t touch it in central Pennsylvania, but deer eat it in certain places in West Virginia. And I’ve heard that deer eat spicebush in parts of Massachusetts

I’m not sure what is happening here. Maybe the deer are just starving and will eat anything, or maybe there are soil nutrients that deer need that are found in areas where these plants grow.

If you have a deer question for Dr. Dave, e-mail your question to Dr. Dave in care of Tom Kacheroski, senior editor of‘s content at

Dr. Dave studied deer for 30 years as a wildlife management professor at West Virginia University. In addition he has been a bowhunter for over 40 years, with deer being his main prey. He’s also an outdoor writer and has been with “Bowhunter” magazine for 30 years.

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