Deer are notorious for eating plants of all kinds, even if they don’t know what they taste like. Their preferences are based on all kinds of factors including location, food availability, and hunger levels. But, do deer eat lilies?
The answer is, yes, deer do eat lilies. While deer have preferences for certain plants, and their feeding habits can vary, they will browse a wide range of vegetation, including flowers, shrubs, and trees. Lilies, with their tender leaves and attractive blooms, can be enticing to deer.
What are lilies?
Lilies are flowering plants that belong to the genus Lilium, which is part of the family Liliaceae. They are known for their large, showy flowers and are widely cultivated for ornamental purposes in gardens.
Lilies are native to various parts of the world, including Europe, North America, and Asia. They are often associated with beauty, purity, and elegance.
In general, Lilium species have a distinct and recognizable flower structure, typically consisting of six petals arranged in a symmetrical pattern. The flowers come in a wide range of colors, including white, yellow, orange, pink, red, and various shades in between.
Lilies are perennial plants, meaning they live for multiple years, and they can grow from bulbs or rhizomes. They prefer well-drained soil and generally require a moderate amount of sunlight. They are commonly used in floral arrangements and for landscaping.
Some popular types of Lilium species include Asiatic lilies (Lilium asiaticum), Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum), Madonna lilies (Lilium candidum), martagon lilies (Lilium martagon), Oriental lilies (Lilium orientalis), tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium), Turk’s cap lilies (Lilium superbum), and trumpet lilies (Lilium regale).
Confusingly, there are a fair number of other plants that aren’t from the Liliaceae family that are also called lilies. These are not true lilies, but they have a similar appearance to true lilies, and it’s doubtful that deer can tell the difference!
They include candy lilies (Pardancanda x norrisii), African lilies (Agapanthus species), calla lilies (Zantedeschia species), canna lilies (Canna species), daylilies (Hemerocallis species), glory lilies (Gloriosa superba), lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), toad lilies (Tricyrtis hirta), and trout lilies (Erythronium).
Then there are water lilies which are aquatic plants that belong to the family Nymphaeaceae. Known for their floating leaves and beautiful flowers, they are unrelated to all other lilies.
What is eating my lilies?
Deer have a reputation for being voracious herbivores and are known to feed on a wide variety of plants. Hungry deer are known to eat lilies, including some Lilium species, especially if other food sources are scarce.
It is worth noting that both adult and baby deer (fawns) might find lilies appealing. In fact, because of their inexperience, there’s a good chance that baby deer will be more likely to try eating all kinds of plants, including lilies, that they have never eaten before.
But there are other creatures and insects that might be eating your lilies, whatever the species. For example, rabbits are known to nibble on the tender leaves and stems of lilies. They can cause extensive damage, especially to young plants.
If you identify lily damage that appears to have occurred overnight, it may be the work of nocturnal slugs and snails. They feed on the leaves and flowers of lilies and leave behind a telltale trail of slime. They can cause significant damage, particularly in wet conditions.
Metallic green Japanese beetles feed on the foliage and flowers of many plants, including lilies. They can skeletonize the leaves, leaving them with a lacy appearance.
Small, red lily leaf beetles are notorious for targeting lilies. Adult beetles and their larvae feed on the leaves, causing severe damage if left unchecked.
Tiny aphids, which attack a wide variety of plants, feed on the sap of plants, including lilies. They usually cluster on the undersides of leaves causing stunted growth and distorted foliage.
Are lilies deer resistant?
While no plant can be considered completely deer resistant, there are certain types of lilies that are known to be less appealing to deer and have a higher chance of surviving their browsing. They include:
- Martagon lilies, which have downward-facing flowers and are known for their hardiness and resistance to deer browsing.
- Madonna lilies, which produce fragrant white flowers and are often less attractive to deer than other lily varieties.
- Turk’s Cap lilies, which have unique, recurved flowers and are generally less appealing to deer.
- Tiger lilies, which have stand-out, vibrant orange flowers with dark spots and are considered to be less preferred by deer.
- Easter lilies, which have a strong fragrance that may deter deer to some extent.
Garden lilies are the only Lilium species mentioned by Rutgers in their list of landscape plants rated by deer resistance, which they say are occasionally eaten or damaged by deer.
Confusingly, there are a fair number of other plants that aren’t from the Liliaceae family that are also called lilies. These include the candy lily (Pardancanda x norrisii), which is frequently damaged by deer. The African lily (Agapanthus species), calla lilies (Zantedeschia species), canna lilies (Canna species), glory lily (Gloriosa superba), toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta), and trout lily (Erythronium) aren’t often damaged by deer. A few are damaged occasionally, including daylilies (Hemerocallis species). According to Rutgers, deer tend to avoid lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis).
How to protect your lilies against deer
There are various ways you can protect your lilies. You can surround them with other plants that are known to be less appealing to deer.
This can create a deterrent effect and make your lilies less likely to be targeted. We have listed a few examples of deer-resistant plants below.
Physical barriers, including fencing, will also help to protect your lilies against hungry deer. But to be effective, fences need to be high – preferably at least 8 feet tall.
Scare tactics can also work. These range from noise-making devices like wind chimes to motion-activated sprinklers that spray water when triggered by movement.
Some people like to use deer repellents. These come in the form of sprays, granules, or even homemade solutions and usually contain odor or taste deterrents that make the plants less attractive to deer.
It should probably go without saying, but keeping your garden free from debris will also help to keep deer away.
What plants do deer hate the most?
The plants deer tend to avoid are those that have a strong scent or taste, or, since it’s the foliage they eat, textured leaves. They include:
- Daffodils contain toxic compounds making them unpalatable.
- Lavender, which has a strong fragrance.
- Strongly scented mint, especially peppermint or spearmint.
- Rosemary, which has a strong fragrance and woody texture.
- Salvia, including common sage (Salvia officinalis), has a strong scent.
- Yarrow, which has a bitter taste and a pungent scent.
- Foxgloves, which, like daffodils, contain toxic compounds.
- Butterfly bushes (Buddleja), which have a strong fragrance.
- Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), which has an especially strong scent.
- Barberry, with its thorns, makes it less appealing for deer to browse.
Ultimately, deer will eat lilies, although there are certain lilies deer are more likely to eat than others. Also, they are more likely to eat lilies when they are hungry and food is scarce.
There are various steps you can take to make your lilies deer resistant, although some are more effective than others. For this reason, it is usually best to use a combination of different methods.