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Deer Don’t Like To Eat Boxwood! (Here’s Why?)

Deer will eat boxwood, but the plant doesn’t rank among the favorite deer foods. This is mainly due to two factors; boxwood stems and leaves have milky sap, and the plant has a relatively strong odor.

Do you want to know about the deer and boxwood relationship? Whether you can use boxwood to keep way deer and more? Then read on, for below, we answer all of the above questions.

Let us begin

Do deer like to eat boxwood?

Beautiful evergreen boxwood plants in a garden. The garden also contains other plants and materials to increase its aesthetic.

Boxwood is a popular evergreen shrub majorly found in North America. The plant is mainly grown as a fence because its stems and leaves grow close together, providing good privacy.

All parts of a boxwood plant: from the leaves, stem, roots, and berries that some varieties occasionally produce, are toxic.

These parts get their toxicity from a milky alkaloid substance the plant produces. The alkaloid substance is a mixture of cyclobuxine, bovine, and cycloprotobuxine.

Therefore when deer eat any boxwood parts, they will experience a lot of discomfort due to the bitter taste originating from the milky alkaloid. 

No wonder they will only eat boxwood during harsh seasons because most of the plants will have either died out or shed their leaves like bananas which are one of deer’s favorite but dried out in winter.

Boxwood is an evergreen, meaning that it will have leaves throughout the year, no matter the season. The plant is quite hardy. A factor that may make the deer munch on the plant while facing hunger.

Is there a variety of boxwood that deer can eat?

Before proceeding, let us first look at the most popular types of boxwood grown in the United States.

Common nameScientific NameFeatures
English BoxwoodB. sempervirens suffruticosasparkling light green leaves
American Boxwood or Common boxwoodBuxus sempervirensDark green evenly spaced leaves
Dee Runk BoxwoodBuxus SempervirensBroad and upright facing leaves
Fastigiata BoxwoodFastigiata SempervirensDark green leaves with a tint of blue on the edges
Korean BoxwoodBuxus Sinica insularisSmall leaves with a pointed front
Japanese BoxwoodBuxus microphylla var. japonicaOval shaped leaves and cream-colored flowers
Baby Gem BoxwoodBuxus microphylla gregemFine-textured broad leaves
Green Gem BoxwoodBuxus Green gemlight green colored leaves
Green Mountain BoxwoodBuxus Green mountainMinimal stems but dense leaf cover
Golden dream BoxwoodBuxus microphylla peer goldWell-arranged leaves with a yellow stripe at the edges
Wintergreen BoxwoodBuxus Sinica insularisDark green leaves with some white spots on the side
Variegated  BoxwoodBuxus sumpervirens AureovariegataLeaves with a creamy white shade.

As you have seen, there are numerous types of boxwood grown all over the United States, but the most common among them is the American boxwood.

American boxwood is primarily grown in North America in Colorado, Alaska, Louisiana, Kentucky, Idaho, Hawaii, and Massachusetts.

These states have plenty of deer, and most of them experience some of the harshest winters. As a result, people living in these states have spotted different types of deer munching on American boxwood during the cold and dry weather.

The types of deer seen are,

  • Mule deer
  • Reindeer
  • Alaska moose
  • Sitka deer 
  • Alces
  • White-tailed deer

Will baby deer eat boxwood?

Fawns may occasionally experiment by eating boxwood, especially if the plant is within the calf’s reach. They will learn to avoid the plant after one or two encounters with the boxwoods none appealing taste.

Can deer recognize boxwood or any poisonous plant?

Deer have a well-developed sense of smell that helps them look for food and guides them on what to eat, explaining why they will eat some plants and pay no attention to others.

In addition, deer will remember what happens when they eat a particular plant; if the plant is tasty and causes no problems, they will eat it regularly.

On the other hand, if they experience pain while or after eating a particular plant, they seldom eat it and, when they do, consume minimal amounts.

Therefore, deer will immediately recognize boxwood or any other toxic plant, provided it usually grows in the deer’s area. Their sense of smell and memory will aid them in their identification.

Can deer use boxwood as a shade?

It is true that deer like using plants as shades to hide from predators and hunters. Even so, deer won’t use boxwood as a shade; they prefer using plants that don’t have a distinctive scent.

Deer get irritated when a plant’s scent sticks on its skin because it will somewhat expose them to predators. 

Will boxwood grow back after deer damage?

You may find that a herd of deer has feasted on your boxwood plants during the winter season. However, there is no need to worry; boxwood is hardy and will eventually grow back, though it will take some time.

You can prune the damaged parts in early spring, apply fertilizer, regularly water the plant, and let nature work its magic.

If boxwood is poisonous, then why do we plant it?

People love boxwood because of its aesthetic appeal, low maintenance needs, and ability to withstand nearly any climatic condition.

Moreover, the shrub isn’t affected by regular pruning, and its dense foliage makes it ideal for fencing purposes.

Despite its advantages, boxwood also has its disadvantages, primarily health-related.

Earlier on, we learned that boxwood has steroidal alkaloids, poisonous to both humans and pets.

Symptoms of boxwood poisoning

Some people are allergic to boxwood; thus, when their skin comes into contact with the plant, they will experience minor irritation, which lasts between three to five minutes.

On the rare occasion that a person eats any part of boxwood, they may develop.

Pets such as cats and dogs which have eaten boxwood will suffer from diarrhea and vomiting. Horses that consume boxwood experience seizures, diarrhea, colic, and breathing difficulties.

What to do in case of boxwood poisoning?

Severe poisoning resulting from eating boxwood isn’t common due to the plant’s bitter taste and rough texture; it is unlikely that a person will consume large amounts. 

Up to now, there haven’t been any human deaths reported due to boxwood poisoning. However, if you suspect that someone has swallowed any part of boxwood, you need to call 911 immediately.

On the other hand, if you develop an allergic skin reaction after touching boxwood, use soap and warm water to wash the affected part immediately.

You should also wear long pants, gloves, and long-sleeved shirts when pruning or planting boxwood to lessen skin exposure.

Can we use boxwood as a deer-resistant plant to protect other crops? 

Since deer don’t like boxwood, especially its smell, you can use it to protect your garden from deer. 

The trick is to make a boxwood wall all around the garden; the variety you plant should also be at least ten feet high. That shouldn’t be an issue because many boxwood varieties can grow up to 15 feet tall.

Hence, the deer won’t be able to jump over the boxwood fence, and they won’t eat through it; they will move on to look for food elsewhere.

You should also regularly check the fence for any openings that deer might use to access your garden and close them.

Other plants we can use as deer deterrents instead of boxwood.

  • Bleeding heart
  • Marigolds
  • Russian sage
  • Bee balm
  • Chives
  • Iris
  • Oregano
  • Daffodils
  • Barrenwort
  • Lambs ear
  • Peppermint
  • Spearmint
  • Wild mint
  • Rosemary
  • Yarrow
  • Cucumbers