Will Deer Eat This? Identifying Native Plants (Episode 504 Transcript)

This is the video transcript. To watch the video for this episode click here.

GRANT: Michael Goga recently shared a trail camera video with us that was taken June 29th in southwestern Pennsylvania. There were clearly two different sized poults with the hens, which probably indicates one of the hens had her nest destroyed and she successfully re-nested.

GRANT: Michael shared there was a lot of rain in his area during the turkey nesting season, as there was here at The Proving Grounds.

GRANT: We’ve also seen, and had Reconyx videos of, different sized poults here at The Proving Grounds this summer.

GRANT: During wet springs, turkey nests can be destroyed by flooding, or wet hens have a very loud odor, and they can attract predators.

GRANT: In Missouri, the turkey season is set to occur after most hens have been bred. Probably due to the weather conditions, it seems toms were constantly with hens throughout the entire season in Missouri.

GRANT: This is probably the result of all the rain and hens attempting to re-nest. Even with the wet conditions, we’re seeing lots of poults here at The Proving Grounds and I believe that’s due to years of working to balance the amount of predators with prey and improving the habitat.

GRANT: Through the years we’ve shared how we’ve taken poor-quality habitat here at The Proving Grounds and converted it to high-quality habitat with abundant wildlife populations.

GRANT: Much of the poorest quality habitat here at The Proving Grounds was covered with eastern red cedar. Those cedars were allowed to take over areas that used to be open due to overgrazing and suppression of all fire.

GRANT: We use chainsaws to fell the cedars and allow a lot more light and moisture to reach the soil.

GRANT: After the cedars had dried for a year or two, we used prescribed fire to reduce the amount of fuel out there and stimulate the growth of native vegetation.

GRANT: After the fire, the areas responded quickly, and in some areas — counting the rings on the cedars — that native vegetation seed had laid dormant in the soil for 75 or more years.

GRANT: In many areas, there’s a great base of native seeds, but it just needs to be released by removing the current vegetation and the use of prescribed fire.

GRANT: Historically, wildfires were huge. Early explorers write about fire scars that were 70 or more miles wide. But we can’t get prescribed fires that intense. So, a few years ago, it was necessary to use a one-time herbicide treatment to suppress all the hardwoods that were starting to shade out the native vegetation.

GRANT: We used an herbicide called Imazapyr that favors most native grasses and forbs and, I gotta tell you, those areas now are extremely rich with high-quality plant communities.

GRANT: You all are shifting, and I’ve got to get my names down.

SUSAN: Get over here. Get over here.

GRANT: No, no, no, no. You’ve got to get in here.

SUSAN: Rhonda and Lauren and Susan.

GRANT: Yeah, yeah, I’ve got Susan down. Ronda and Lauren. Okay. We’re gonna do this. Here we go. All right.

GRANT: Last week, I was honored to have three Missouri Department of Conservation employees come out and once again tour these native vegetation areas.

GRANT: Great day here at The Proving Grounds. You can tell I’m excited, because we have three Missouri Department of Conservation staff here to help us today.

GRANT: We’ve got Rhonda, Lauren, and Susan. We’re gonna tour some areas where we’ve used prescribed fire or cut cedars. We’ve worked on the habitat to improve it and those areas have been populated by native vegetation. We didn’t plant it. A lot of them, I can’t identify, so we’re gonna take a little hike.

GRANT: Come on along with us and learn about native vegetation.

GRANT: The interns and I had an incredible opportunity to learn more about native habitat.

SUSAN: This here has been a bumper year for daisy fleabane and lots of people have said, “What’s this going on?” You know, I’ve already had people calling me…


SUSAN: … worried about what was this in his hay. Was it safe to hay his field because…

GRANT: Yeah.

SUSAN: …he hadn’t gotten into it, because it had been wet earlier…

GRANT: Sure.

SUSAN: …and now it’s covered in this, and was it safe? And I said, “Yes, it’s safe. It’s just really happy in our very moist year.” It’s a biennial, and it’s just exploded this year. An annual or a biennial.

GRANT: And a lot of people say…

SUSAN: (Inaudible)

GRANT: …that fleabane is a good tick repellant –


GRANT: …or pest repellant. So, the old timers would do this and rub it all over theirselves. And as bad as ticks are at The Proving Grounds, I may just carry this with me all day.

GRANT: Okay. So, I want all of us to go right down the line here. So, what have we got here?

SUSAN: That is ironweed.


SUSAN: Vernonia.

GRANT: Don’t worry about that.

SUSAN: Umm, the vernonias are horrible.

GRANT: Yeah, we’re not going…

SUSAN: And they like to hybridize between each other. So, they get really technical. But it’s ironweed and they have beautiful purple flowers. The pollinators love these.


SUSAN: All the butterflies feed on them. I mean on the, on the pollen.

GRANT: Yeah, and when it gets big and coarse like this, deer rarely use it. But when it’s young, deer will browse on this. So, I like seeing it in my mix of native species, because when it’s young — one thing I like about native vegetation is, it’s kind of like a time-released food plot. There’ll be something that’s good when it’s early, mid, and late season.

SUSAN: Hmm, hmm. And ironweed, because — try to remove this if you want. The roots are so deep — this is like an iron plant. You’re not gonna pull this out easily.

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GRANT: The first native vegetation area we toured is called Boom Glade. And I work in western Kansas a lot, so I’ll tell you the Grant Woods’ generic name for it later, but tell us what this plant is.

SUSAN: Did you – I think I might know the Grant Woods name. Anyway, it is a common mullein. It is an exotic. It’s not one I lay awake at night worrying about.

GRANT: Right.

SUSAN: Some things I’m very concerned about getting off the landscape. This one tends to insert itself into disturbed sites, and it has to have bare ground to colonize. And it’s a biennial, so, it lives two years. The second year, it’s gonna go to seed like it’s going to flower right now.


SUSAN: Will go to seed, and then the plant will die.

GRANT: Yep. Yep.

SUSAN: So, as other things start to move in and all the natives, grasses, and forbs come in and take their place, this plant just dies out. So, it’s not one I worry about.

GRANT: Yeah, and it’ll get choked out. It’s nothing we’re out here trying to control.

SUSAN: It was brought over from Europe because it’s good for diapers, toilet paper.

GRANT: Yes. So, that’s – that kind of goes for our common name. When working in western Kansas or Texas where most things are thorny and kind of hurt, if you put ‘em in a personal area, we call this “Charmin of the Plains.” So, I’ll let you figure out why. “Charmin of the Plains.”

SUSAN: And we call it “the camper’s best friend” for the same reason.

GRANT: “Camper’s best friend.” There you go.

GRANT: So, a lot of people are seeing this grass – pardon me – right here. Especially on these really wet years, it tends to be a little bit more prosperous. Can you tell us what this is?

SUSAN: It’s a wild rye and the way it’s arching – I’m thinking Virginia wild rye? Virginia wild rye is very common all over our landscape and our woodlands, on our glades, along our roadsides, good forage food.

GRANT: Yes. So, a lot of guys see this and misidentify it because of these big awns, or hair-like structures, on here as something else.

SUSAN: As foxtail?


SUSAN: Yes. So, there’s exotic foxtails that do look very similar.

GRANT: But this isn’t a nasty. You don’t need to be busting out the Roundup and trying to kill it. And…

SUSAN: One good way to probably tell is that the nasty foxtails that we don’t really want a lot of will be fairly easy to pull out of the ground. They’re generally more annual. Same with the bromes, the various different bromes that we were worried about. They’ll — most of those are annual. There are some perennial, but most are annual.

GRANT: Deer are extremely selective feeders, and they will browse the most nutritious, most attractive forage each day. So, when you have a very diverse native plant community, it helps them express their full genetic potential, because they’re finding that leaf or that plant that’s best for those conditions, and that may change in a day or two.

GRANT: Providing quality forage year around allows bucks to produce bigger antlers and does to produce more milk and healthier fawns.

DANIEL: You guys learning a lot?

PATRICK: Oh yeah.

TAYLOR: A little bit. Trying to absorb some stuff.

GRANT: Just point out at will.

SUSAN: Well, can we point out a nasty?

GRANT: Yeah.

SUSAN: This is spotted knapweed here.


SUSAN: Usually you’ll see it first in the — along the roadsides.


SUSAN: And everybody thinks, “Oh what a pretty plant. It kind of looks like a garden bachelor’s button.” But it is, it is pretty wicked and really displaces our native biodiversity. So, if at all possible, try to control this nasty spotted knapweed.

GRANT: And there are people working on some — and I’m a little scared of this – but, some insects.

SUSAN: That actually — the biocontrols for these — the insects, the weevils, and such have been around for a really long time. They’ve, we’ve used them up in the west; and we’ve also used them here in Missouri.

GRANT: So, a biocontrol is simply using bio, biology, something living, to control noxious weeds or a noxious problem versus a chemical solution, like treating this with Roundup or something like that. So, you take that from there.

SUSAN: Right, and the – what it comes from is that where this plant evolved, it evolved with insects that kept it under control.

SUSAN: When it comes to a foreign land, here to the U.S., it doesn’t have those native predators that kept it under control in its native environment. So, the idea is, can we bring those insects over here as a biocontrol to control them?

SUSAN: First concern is, will those insects have some other negative impact? And a lot of times they do. So, that’s a really big concern that has to be addressed before we start releasing bugs to kill exotic plants.

GRANT: As a wildlife manager, I see many advantages to restoring habitat to the conditions it was pre-European settlement. Native plant communities are obviously adapted to that site and are extremely diverse, which allows them to be productive even during harsh conditions, such as long winters or extreme droughts.

GRANT: Having portions of a property managed for native browse production can reduce the amount of pressure on food plots.

SUSAN: There’s a lot of different native warm season grasses. Some of the – probably the three most common that we deal with are Indian grass, big bluestem, and little bluestem, as well as broomsedge.

SUSAN: So, what I do to identify a grass is, I’m gonna have to go down, and pull it up, and take a look at it. And I would look at its base. In this case, it’s kind of — not fully round, but not flattened.

GRANT: Right.

SUSAN: It’s sort of football shaped.

GRANT: Yeah.

SUSAN: At the base of the comb, the base of the stem.

GRANT: It is. It is.

SUSAN: So, there’s your football shape at the bottom.

SUSAN: The second thing I double check is, I pull a leaf down and pull it away from the stem. And I’m looking for what they call a little ligule, which is this little thing right there where the leaf meets the stem. There’s nothing major there. It’s just kind of fuzzy, furry.

SUSAN: And then the last thing I look at is how the new growth comes out, and that means kind of holding it right like this. And I see that the growth is kind of un-circled, it’s circling out at me. It’s not flattened. So, this is going to be big bluestem right there.

SUSAN: This looks like little blue right there. And little blue is going to be totally flat down at its base and the new growth, when you hold it this way and look at the very newest leaf unfurling, it’s folded in half just like its bottom. So, it’s a folded grass.

SUSAN: So is broomsedge. And broomsedge and little blue get really difficult to distinguish in their vegetative state. They’re easy when they’re blooming and when it’s later in the summer.

GRANT: These are both really palatable for cattle. Deer will eat ‘em when they’re very small – not at this stage, but tremendous cover.

SUSAN: So, Indian grass is basically rounded at the base, not so football shaped, but rounded, and I pulled up a little piece of the root there.

GRANT: Hmm, hmm.

SUSAN: And then, in – so, round versus football might be hard to figure out. So, what you do then is, like I looked for the ligule in the big bluestem.

GRANT: Hmm, hmm.

SUSAN: This Indian grass has this hard ligule right here where you can push down on that, and that actually feels hard.

GRANT: Oh, yes, yes, yes.

SUSAN: They call it a cartilaginous ligule. In other words, a hard spot – and then that’s often called the rifle site. So, if you’re looking through it, I think there’s a little notch in the top of that ligule…

GRANT: There is.

SUSAN: …that looks like a little rifle site.

GRANT: That’s cool. So, I just want to emphasize, we didn’t plant any of these native species folks. And this is common throughout the whitetails’ range.

GRANT: If you take degraded habitat – unless it’s been intensely plowed and that seed bank really messed with – if you use prescribed fire or whatever the appropriate technique is for that habitat, usually the natives will recolonize that area. And you have to go around and spot treat some of the invasive species, like sericea lespedeza – we’re doing here – to allow these natives even to expand.

GRANT: All we did was touch cedar trees and burn this area. I think we’re on our fifth burn in this area. We’ve burned this area five times, including cool season or dormant season burns and growing season burns, to establish this. Different plants respond to being burned at different times of the year.

GRANT: We continued walking and learning as we went.

GRANT: All right. Point something out.

SUSAN: All right. Our native legumes – we’ve got purple prairie clover here. The last of the bloom still hanging out here.

GRANT: Last week, that was beautiful.

SUSAN: Right. It’s just about finished now. And these are the finished blossoms. And the purple prairie clover is, I assume, quite palatable?

GRANT: Yes, yes, yes.

SUSAN: I trust you on that one. And also a very high-quality native plant, great for pollinators. It’s also really fragrant. If you…

GRANT: It is.

SUSAN: … take the leaves –

GRANT: Yep, kind of crunch them a little bit.

SUSAN: … and crunch them. Won’t you pass these around to everybody?

GRANT: Ooh, man, yeah.

SUSAN: Pass that around.

GRANT: Pass that around. Crunch ‘em up a little bit in your hand.

SUSAN: Yep. The leaves – crush the leaves and smell. It’s very fragrant, very nice (Inaudible).

GRANT: We’re all gonna wipe down with that right about noon after we’ve been sweating out here the whole time.

SUSAN: Right.

GRANT: It’s, of course, it’s a legume.

SUSAN: Hmm, hmm.

GRANT: So, putting a little nitrogen in here for some other plants to take advantage of.

SUSAN: Right.

GRANT: The ladies weren’t only looking at plant diversity. We like learning about spiders.

GRANT: Diverse plant communities usually have very diverse insect populations.

LAUREN: It looks like a funnel web spider to me.

GRANT: Walking on through the glade or the native vegetation area, what we hunters would call a bedding area, found a spider web. Now, a lot of people go, “Oh my gosh, a spider web.”

GRANT: But you know, spiders are pretty cool. They’re a predatory species; and a lot of times, they are eating critters that are trying to eat up your food plots. So, I actually like seeing spider webs. They’re doing good work for not only food plots but mankind.

LAUREN: That’s right. This here is a funnel web spider — builds a big web that insects will fall into and then it runs out of its kind of safe little funnel home and grabs and pulls him back in.

LAUREN: We were talking earlier about biocontrol. This is America’s biocontrol for the insects that might get some of your food plants.

GRANT: Yeah.

LAUREN: A sign of a healthy ecosystem. If you’ve got all the parts working together, helping control each other, you’re going to have a good habitat for your deer.

GRANT: Another great thing – of course, spiders are what we call soft insects. Turkey poults, quail poults thrive on soft insects. So, it all works together then. So…

LAUREN: They’re your fellow professionals out there in the woods.

GRANT: There we go.

SUSAN: This is a smooth sumac. We have three species of sumac here in Missouri. We have smooth sumac; winged sumac, which looks real similar to this, but has little wings between its leaves; and aromatic sumac, which looks more like poison ivy than it does like either of these two shrubs.

SUSAN: Smooth sumac and winged sumac can become problematic species. They’re native. They belong in the landscape, but sometimes they become excessively overabundant in our landscape.

GRANT: They’ll shade out the more preferred vegetation.

SUSAN: Right. The one way that we find that really encourages a ton of this…


SUSAN: …if you burn pretty intensely every March and April, you’re gonna have a lot of sumac. So, you want to try to vary when you burn so that you don’t encourage sumac to grow over abundantly.

GRANT: You do what I call a “growing season burn,” which typically means July, August, early September – a drier period of year, at least here in the Midwest. Those growing season burns will do a good job of controlling woody species and actually favor these herbaceous species.

GRANT: Now, growing season burns don’t favor native grasses. But there’s usually a big – if you haven’t done that every year – there’s a big enough seed source that you’ll have native grasses anyway.

GRANT: So, what I like to do is burn when it’s natural. When it’s dry, well, that’s when we would’ve had wildfire. That’s how these plants adapted. That’s a good time to burn. So, we like to burn when – any time of the year, any month out of the year.

GRANT: If we have a dry period in May, we will burn then. And you may worry about some nesting critters or some fawns or something, but a small 10 or 20-acre burn isn’t gonna wipe ‘em out in an area. And it creates better habitat for future generations.

GRANT: So, I wouldn’t ever burn a whole property during that critical nesting, fawning time of year. But I’d burn a small section to encourage quality vegetation that’s not available other places, ‘cause they weren’t stimulated by a fire at that time of year.

SUSAN: Right. Burning in September and October is also a good time to knock back the sumac. But I don’t want to say that sumac’s bad, because sumac is native and does belong, and if it’s just here and there, that’s great. It’s good for pollinators. It’s — lots of different caterpillars feed on it.


SUSAN: So, it’s a good plant. We just don’t want it in excess.

GRANT: We want maximum diversity in our native vegetation.

SUSAN: Right.

GRANT: This is not like an ag field where we want a monoculture – I don’t even want a monoculture there. But we want maximum diversity here. I’m like, talking like a hundred plus species out here. We want a lot of diversity that’s feeding a lot of different critters and improving the soil at the same time.

GRANT: Think about the thousands or millions of tons of roots going down in this soil. And on the annual plants, of course, they’ll die, and they’re building soil. And when you do a fire on top, that does not harm that area.

GRANT: So, we can actually build soil even in shallow, rocky places like this by managing appropriately – following the natural plan.

GRANT: Susan, we’ve got a real showy flower here, but before we talk about that -gosh, this is a really rich area. I’m seeing a lot of diversity. Just quickly kind of tell us some of the stuff you see around. Just kind of number ‘em and count ‘em off.

SUSAN: All right. There’s a lot of cool stuff here. There’s at least three species of native legume just right here. We’ve got the purple prairie clover, the panicled tick trefoil, and some trailing bush clover there. We’ve got lots of different daisy type plants, different goldenrods, and birkellia – I don’t know a good common name for that one – and the black-eyed Susan, the Missouri black-eyed Susan, the grey-headed coneflower — that real showy yellow flower. The grasses, of course.

GRANT: Yep. Big blue and little blue in here for sure.

SUSAN: I’m seeing a native rose at my feet, rose of carolina.

GRANT: Yeah. We’ve got smilax right there. Of course, all the native legumes are deer browse, and they’re helping other plants. And you all probably know this – when a legume like that is bitten or browsed on, that makes it go, “Man, I need to work harder to heal myself.” And it’s actually pumping out more good stuff in the soil. So, that helps the other plants.

GRANT: We’ve got ragweed right here, right here in front of us, but we came here to talk about this showy flower. So, let’s talk about that.

SUSAN: So, this is purple poppy mallow and it’s found here in the southwestern part of the state. It’s not everywhere in the state. This particular one is the real narrow-leafed one. I believe it’s the finger purple poppy mallow and a very pretty little plant to have – wonderful native, very popular. We’re watching native bees come in and feed on it.

GRANT: Yep, we’re seeing bees right here. So, you know, guys, we – and gals – we need to understand – I’ve never seen deer – I’ve never seen evidence of deer browsing on poppy mallow, but you’ve got these bees here that are working on other plants that deer do browse on. It all fits together.

GRANT: So, when I’m managing, again, native habitat, I want maximum native diversity. I don’t want plants that shouldn’t be here, but I want a lot of diversity, and all of ‘em serve a purpose.

GRANT: Susan provided many helpful hints that made identifying some of the plants easy. One of my favorite tips is when she shared how to tell the difference between a native thistle, which has some beneficial qualities, and invasive thistle species.

GRANT: Susan, here’s a plant that I’m confused about, I think a lot of folks are confused about. So, maybe you can help me and others. This is a thistle, but there’s – I know from school there’s some beneficial native thistles. And we’re all thinking, when we hear thistle – a noxious, invasive weed. So, which one is this? And tell us how to tell the difference.

SUSAN: Right. Well first, you’re right that there are some thistles that are noxious and not native – exotic plants. And those we do want to control. We don’t need those taking over our native plants. But the problem is that everybody goes after every thistle. And native thistles are incredibly important for our pollinators, for monarchs flying through in the fall – that’s one of the things they feed on – for goldfinches.

SUSAN: Goldfinches preferentially wait until the first thistles bloom to start nesting. All the other birds are doing their nesting thing. Goldfinches haven’t even started yet, because they wait for the down and the seed from this plant…


SUSAN: …to line their nest with the down and feed the seeds to their babies.

GRANT: Okay.

SUSAN: So, how do you tell a good thistle from a bad thistle, a native from an exotic? It’s actually really easy. If you walk up to a thistle plant. and you bend over the leaf. and look at the underside of the leaf, if it’s bright white and wooly underneath, then that is a native thistle.

SUSAN: All of our non-natives – if you bend the leaf over – it will look basically about the same green underneath as it does on top. This one has that strong whitened underside.

SUSAN: There’s only one exception to that rule. And it’s found in only very high-quality habitats like fens, a special kind of wetland, and along high-quality streams.

SUSAN: So, if you’re not where swamp thistle could grow, that’s our only native exception to this rule.

SUSAN: It looks a lot like bull thistle to me – and it is.

GRANT: It is.

SUSAN: All right. We got our nasty exotic bull thistle.

GRANT: Yeah. Here’s a good comparison guys.

SUSAN: Yeah. It just looked a lot thornier to me from a distance.

GRANT: It did. It’s much narrower leaves.

SUSAN: And I could not grab that stem anywhere without impaling my finger. And I even, with even the leaves, I have to be extremely careful to turn – ow – to turn upside down to look at, and they are the same color on the underside as they are on the top.

SUSAN: So, this – it doesn’t always bloom this early, but in this case, this one is a, kind of a precocious one.

GRANT: The information Susan shared was much easier than studying the flower structure of the thistles.

GRANT: After we zigzagged through a portion of the Boom Glade, we headed down to the 50 Acre Glade.

GRANT: You may recall, we treated that area with prescribed fire this spring. This area has been burned four times after we felled the cedars and it also has a great diversity of native vegetation.

GRANT: 50 Acre is a bit different than the Boom Glade in that it’s a savanna habitat. It has a bunch of mature, native oaks spread throughout the area. The oaks provide shade during warm days for critters and also some acorns during the fall. But they’re thin enough apart, like they should be in a savanna, to allow ample sunshine for the native vegetation to prosper.

GRANT: Well, we found another plant that’s easily misidentified. This is a native plant — should be in this area – but I, myself, could confuse it and want to control it. Why don’t you explain what we found?

SUSAN: So, we found native slender lespedeza. And it looks an awful lot like a plant many of us are familiar with, sericea lespedeza, which is from Asia and was brought over on purpose. Said to be good forage; said to be good wildlife habitat. Really, it’s not great for either; and it’s incredibly aggressive and overtakes our native plants.

GRANT: Yes. So, if this was sericea here, this whole area would be covered with sericea because it makes so many seeds that are viable.

SUSAN: Right, and we’d be spraying it.

SUSAN: But in this case, this is the native, and it is really difficult to distinguish the two. And I have to admit that when I have a backpack sprayer on, and I’m out there spraying, it’s not hard to suddenly say, “Oh, look at that sericea.” Hit it. And then as I’m spraying it – and I know the plants well – I realize I’m hitting the wrong one.

SUSAN: So, you have to develop an eye for it. And we’ll show a close-up and show some of the differences, but basically, this plant doesn’t branch as much as sericea – especially as the season goes on. Sericea will have much more branching up here at the top.

SUSAN: The individual leaves – looking at them – each individual leaf is kind of pointed on both sides, more or less; whereas sericea is more cut off on the far end. It’s pointed on the bottom end and then sort of wedge shaped on the top end.

GRANT: You talking about the distal end, or the far away end?

SUSAN: Right, the very far away tip of the leaflet.

GRANT: Okay. Okay.

SUSAN: The best way to do it – and I’m getting a little older, and it gets harder to see, but the best way to do it is to hold it up to the sunlight and look through the leaflet at the veins.

GRANT: Oh yeah.

SUSAN: The veins on this plant are real curvy. They curve out to the edge of the leaflet and come back and they’re just big loopty-loopty loops.

SUSAN: Whereas, on sericea, when you hold it up to the light, you’ll see that it’s got veins that are straight out like a fishbone. And the way I remember that is that sericea stinks, in my opinion. I don’t like the plant. Fish stinks – at least when it’s old. So, stinky fish, stinky plant. That’s how I connect the fishbone venation to the bad plant, to the one I want to get rid of.

GRANT: Excellent tip. Native lespedeza, of course, is a great plant for many reasons and we want to leave it here as part of our overall community.

GRANT: There’s some really cool native species growing in the 50 Acre Glade that we didn’t find in the Boom Glade. These species probably responded to the most recent prescribed fire.

SUSAN: And this is rattlesnake master. It’s almost in full bloom here, not quite. But pretty much this is what it does. It’s not any real showy plant, but the white blossoms are – once they start to open up a little bit more, butterflies flock to this thing. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t have showy petals. They come flying and get the pollen out from each of those itty-bitty tiny flowers.

SUSAN: One very common plant that we don’t want to touch, and thus, I’m holding it with these pliers, is poison ivy. And every, people get confused by poison ivy.

SUSAN: There’s a lot of different plants that look like it. This is one of its most common look-alikes. This is fragrant sumac, and you can see I don’t mind holding this one. Fragrant sumac – the easiest way to tell the difference between a leaf of fragrant sumac and a leaf of poison ivy, is you see how on the sumac the terminal leaflet, the end leaflet, is right there with its two little friends at the base? So, it has two little side leaflets and a third leaflet at the terminal point, and they all kind of co-exist together. They’re friendly.

SUSAN: This one, poison ivy, the terminal leaflet is up on a higher stalk, a little leaf stalk that separates it. Maybe you can see it better from behind – both directions. That separates it from its two side leaflets. So, I like to say it’s unfriendly.

SUSAN: Another really important thing to note on poison ivy is that it’s alternate, which means there’s a leaf here, then a leaf there, then a leaf there. They alternate on the stem going up and down. Poison ivy can be very low; it can be very tall; it can climb up a tree and be a big vine. It is extremely variable.

SUSAN: You cannot tell whether you have poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac by your rash. Your doctor might tell you a bad case means you have poison oak. That is not true. You just have a bad reaction to one of them. They all have the same toxic ingredient. They should all be avoided; and they should all be avoided even if you think that you don’t get it, because you can develop an allergy to it in later life.

SUSAN: It’s a good native plant. It belongs in its place. The birds like it as winter food. I think even deer like the berries in the winter. So, it’s a good plant, but obviously not one you want in your backyard – not one you want to go rolling in.

GRANT: Poison ivy may not be a plant you want to encounter while you’re outside, but it’s actually fairly high-quality deer browse.

GRANT: Well, we’re down a little closer to the ground, and we’ve got one of my favorite and one of my least favorite, but they’re both native to this area.

GRANT: I’m going to start with the favorite. This is a croton. Can you tell us which croton that is?

SUSAN: It’s the – it’s also called prairie tea or one-seeded croton.

GRANT: And I love it. She said seeded, because these little flowers will make little seeds that doves and quail love. Bit, but we’ve got a field of this – we’ll get it up where you can see and get a close-up of it. Maybe someone’s disturbed an area or something, and you see a whole bunch of this in a field, get ready for dove season, because doves are going to be swarming this.

GRANT: It’s as good as anything you can plant. You just can’t make it grow where you want it sometimes. But croton is – deer will browse on it. Doves love these seed. It’s a fine native plant, but right next to us here, it’s a native plant, but a plant I don’t like for several reasons.

SUSAN: Because it hurts.

GRANT: Yeah, it hurts to touch. It’s real spikey. It’s got a deep, deep tap root.

GRANT: Susan, which plant is this?

SUSAN: That’s horse nettle – in the nightshade family – very poisonous, but not everything in the nightshade family is poisonous because our tomatoes and potatoes and peppers are all in that same family.

GRANT: That’s right. Yeah, tomatoes, which I love. This will make a little yellow fruit maybe the size of a marble or so. Marbles come in different sizes, maybe a half inch or something like that. And I fear that some kid will see it, and it looks like a little yellow tomato, but it’s extremely toxic to humans. So…

SUSAN: Right.

GRANT: And some livestock actually.

SUSAN: And it’s very thorny.

GRANT: Very, very thorny on the back of the leaves and on the stems. Not much of it in here. It is a native species. I’m not worried about it, but a big difference between a plant that I consider very beneficial and a plant that I don’t really like.

SUSAN: But this is one of the early precocious ones. Beautiful plants. The deer love to browse.

GRANT: Love this.

SUSAN: They just eat the tips off these things. They don’t eat…

GRANT: And several songbirds. This will actually make little seeds – not as big as a normal sunflower that you’re thinking about – not like a baseball player, you know, spitting ‘em out.

GRANT: The value of these areas now to many species of wildlife, and the views created, and the value to hunters, is much, much greater than the value it had when they were covered with eastern red cedars.

GRANT: I wish to thank the Missouri Department of Conservation and specifically Susan, Rhonda, and Lauren, for taking time to help us learn more about the native vegetation here at The Proving Grounds.

GRANT: Missouri is blessed with a great Department of Conservation. All states have a similar department. I hope you’ll reach out to them and check out the resources they have to offer.

GRANT: Whether you’re identifying the native plants or just taking in the pure beauty, I hope you take time to get outside and enjoy Creation. But most importantly, take time every day to slow down, be quiet, and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.

GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.

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