Go Native: 6 Indigenous Plants For Your Next Food Plot

The wildlife food plots that we so carefully plant and tend have undoubtedly grown bigger bucks and built healthier deer herds. But it's also possible that we are literally sowing the seeds of an ecological problem that could grow well beyond our own properties. Many food-plot seed blends contain non-native plants, some of which are classified as invasive. To clarify, "non-native" and "invasive" have come to mean the same thing to many shade-tree ecologists. In reality, non-natives and invasive plants are different. "There is no inherent harm in planting non-native plants," says Dr. Chris Moorman, coordinator of the Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology Program at North Carolina State University. "Many of our agricultural food crops are non-native and many non-native ornamentals are known to be benign," meaning they don't spread. What worries Moorman is that "quick-fix" attitudes will replace the need to be long-term stewards of our hunting lands. Moorman suggests land managers become familiar with all of the seeds in any given blend and avoid introducing exotic plants that aren't classified as invasive, but that "have characteristics common to known invasive plants." Those include prolific seed production, rapid vegetative reproduction (think kudzu), and adaptations for seed dispersal, like fruits eaten by birds. Even better, hunters should consider planting a variety of natives that are appealing to deer and other wildlife, and are beneficial to the wider landscape. Here are six great options.
Elms
Native elm species like American, rock, and slippery elm are almost as valuable to your hunting land as oak trees. Why? Because they provide browse all year long and the fodder needed to maintain the digestive health of deer herds. Avoid planting Asian elms.
Poison Ivy, Poison Oak
These two toxic plants, found in abundance in Eastern and Western forests, are viewed as a nuisance by hunters but not by deer. A variety of other wildlife relies on "poison" for food and shelter.
Greenbrier
Also known as sarsaparilla, this plant has a high nutritional value to deer. Wherever greenbrier occurs (from Canada through Texas and across much of the eastern United States), it is an important food for deer throughout the year.
Sumac
The wide variety of sumacs found across the country (staghorn, smooth, and dwarf being the most common) provide deer and other wildlife with ample browse all year, even in winter. In addition, sumacs are very hardy plants.
Native Oaks
Biologists estimate that in many areas, acorns account for more than 50 percent of a deer's annual diet. Acorns provide the proteins and fats necessary to maintain the health of deer herds year-round. Oak trees also provide shelter.
Native Clover
Most cultivated clovers--red, white, sweet--are native to Europe. Still, these palatable legumes are a staple for deer and a great source of protein and minerals. The best native clovers are purple prairie and prairie bush varieties.

Planting your food plots with indigenous forage species benefits both your land and the wildlife that use it. Check out these six natural food plot options.