Iowa Native Plants

Native Plants Support Native Wildlife

The best habitat for native wildlife in your backyard is one with native plants in it. Native plants and wildlife are those that exist naturally in a given area and have not been introduced by humans. Native plants and animals often have complex interrelationships that have evolved over the course of thousands of years. They are both extremely well-adapted to the natural environmental conditions in their native region and their activities often play a role in shaping and/or maintaining the ecosystem.

Unfortunately when a piece of land is developed by humans, most of the native vegetation is removed and replaced with non-native grasses, trees and ornamental shrubs. When invasive, non-native plants become established in an area, species diversity is greatly reduced.

(pics here)

Native plant benefits for wildlife

A diverse and healthy plant community is the key to maintaining a diverse and healthy wildlife population. The best way to improve your yard's appeal to and help native wildlife is to remove non-native and especially invasive plants, and replace them with a variety of native plants suitable to your area's soil and water conditions. Native plants are better in the long run at providing the food, shelter and diversity wildlife species need to thrive in their environment.

(pic here)

Native plant benefits for you

Native plants are not only beneficial to native wildlife but to property owners as well. Native plants are already well adapted to the local climate so they tend to be hardier and require much less care than non-native plants. Landscaping your yard with native plants can reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental watering, mowing and other yard care-related chores. In addition, many native plants are just as aesthetically appealing as their non-native alternatives.

(morel here)

Non-native and invasive plants

In addition to non-native plants that are intentionally planted in an area, there are many species of “noxious weeds” or “invasives” plants that readily spread on their own when an area is developed. These aggressively spreading plants often grow so quickly that they choke out all other vegetation. While many of these plants do provide some benefit to wildlife, they have different qualities than the native plants that they replace and may not be suitable to support native wild animals.

(pics & subheadings here)

Making A Home For Wildlife: Green Browse Food Plots


Green Browse — Living plants that are intentionally planted to attract and feed wildlife species. Green browse plots are often planted with a mix of grass and perennial legumes.

Legume — Any member of the Fabaceae family; forbs, shrubs and trees capable of fixing their own supply of nitrogen. Common legumes include red clover, alfalfa and partridge pea.

Soil Inoculant — Bacteria or fungus that are added to soils to enhance plant growth.


Green browse plots provide wildlife with much-needed bedding, food and brooding sites, and can be customized to attract certain species. Deer and rabbits will feed during the spring, summer and fall while turkeys, pheasants, quail and songbirds will use green browse areas to find insects to feed their young.

Before You Begin

Planning the location Green browse plots should be a minimum of one acre and located on level ridge tops, bottomlands or along the contour of gentle slopes. Food plots should make up no more than 5 percent of your total acreage. While larger food plots may benefit heavy deer populations, smaller food plots ensure proper browse for many species through the seasons. The browse site should be open, tillable and next to suitable cover. Placing the plot at least 60 feet from any woodland edge will reduce competition from trees and allow light to reach the planting. Green browse plots will increase wildlife traffic including predators. A buffer strip of perennials and shrubs will provide escape cover close to the plot. Shrubs, especially fruitbearing ones, also provide additional food and browse for wildlife. These extra components may increase the diversity of wildlife, particularly songbirds. For deer and turkey, green browse plots should be placed ¼ mile apart or one per 40-acre tract. For rabbit and quail, plots can be closer, such as 100 to 150 yards apart.

“A green browse plot is one of the best management tools for many wildlife species on your property, especially for whitetail deer.” Colleen Koss, President/CEO Wishes for Wildlife Foundation.

Whitetail Deer: Food and Water

It is critical that deer habitat provides a good food supply throughout the year. Quality and abundance of fall and winter food items are critical because they determine physical and reproductive conditions. Whitetail deer selectively sample most plant species in their home range but relatively few species make up the bulk of their diet. Cultivated crops such as corn and soybeans, provide 78 percent of the annual diet of deer in Iowa. These crops are utilized early during the growing season and again from October to April. A large portion of this fall and winter use is limited to agricultural residue remaining in fields after harvest. This is tje reason that Wishes For Wildlife Foundation members “corn” the dams. During the spring and summer months, 600 pounds of corn is purchased each week. This number doubles during the fall and winter months.

Woody browse such as buckbrush, oak and sumac provides 13 percent of the diet and is utilized in the summer and fall and during periods of heavy snowfall in the winter. Wishes For Wildlife Foundation has many of these trees and bushes on its properties. We also plant sapling Saw Tooth Oak for the next generation of deer. Various forbs make up five percent of the diet and are utilized heavily in the spring and summer along with grass.

Deer will use free water daily, if available, but can subsist a long time on water provided by succulent food items.Wishes For Wildlife Foundation has 3 ponds on its properties for the use of its wildlife.

Whitetail Deer: Reproduction

The whitetail deer breeding season in Iowa extends from October through January. Breeding by adult does starts in October and continues through December with 70 percent of the breeding occurring from November 2-23. Breeding activity by fawn does which are six to eight months old extends from November through January with 75 percent of the breeding occurring between November 17 and December 22. Fawn whitetail does reach a peak in breeding activity about three weeks later than adult does.

Whitetail fawns are born from early May through August after a six-and one-half month gestation period. The peak fawning period is from the last week of May through the first two weeks of June. Fawns are typically weaned at three to four months of age but stay with the doe until they are about one year old.

Adult does normally produce two fawns, but three or even four are possible. About 70 percent of the whitetail fawn does breed during their first fall and usually produce only one young. Iowa deer have an extremely high reproductive rate compared to other states because of the nutritious food, relatively mild winters and lack of parasites and diseases.

Bucks are capable of breeding at one and one-half years of age but the majority of the breeding is performed by the older, more dominant bucks. Does are receptive to bucks for about 24 to 48 hours and are vigorously pursued during this period. If for some reason, does are not bred, they will again come into heat about 28 to 29 days later. This cycle may be repeated two to three times if the doe is not bred. A whitetail doe bred late in the fall will have her fawn late in the summer, which accounts for occasional reports of small deer seen during the hunting season.

Wishes For Wildlife Foundation members identify the late hatch and pay close attention to sustaining them through the winter months. How is this achieved? Members provide the small deer an additional feeding after the large deer are full. This is done several times a day.

Whitetail Deer: Habits

Does prefer solitude and stay close to their young during fawning time to provide food and protection. Often times we view does and their new fawns join previous offspring to form a family group of four to six deer. They then stay together most of the year. Wishes For Wildlife Foundation members identify “families” by their distinctive markings and similarities. Bucks typically do not take part in the care and upbringing of fawns and usually remain solitary during the spring and summer. Interestingly, members of Wishes For Wildlife Foundation have viewed bucks and fawns touching noses and sharing licks during the summer months.

Whitetail bucks may be found together during the breeding season, but one buck will be dominant and will mate with most of the does in his territory. Short jousting matches and the interlocking of antlers establish this dominance. Although it’s the end of summer now, members of Wishes For Wildlife Foundation are beginning to witness smaller bucks engaging in mock jousting! Bucks will rejoin their family groups during the winter months. These small herds then “herd up” and join other herds to make one large group. The largest group we have witnessed during winter months on our South Pond dam was upwards of 75.

Whitetails can run at speeds up to 35 mph. They typically prefer to slip away from danger or remain motionless while it passes. These deer are excellent jumpers and can quite easily clear an eight-foot fence as necessary. Amazingly, they are also good swimmers and can safely cross-large rivers.

Whitetail Deer: Culling the Herd via Bow-Hunting

Bagging a "wily whitetail deer" is a memorable experience since hunters are pitting their skill against an animal that has an acute knowledge of his surroundings and a keen instinct for survival. Hunters can do many things to prepare for their ultimate challenge. First, they need to become acquainted with the terrain they are going to hunt. This can be accomplished with several preseason trips to the hunting area. Familiarity with the terrain is key. A good knowledge of the habitat, deer trails, topography, location of feeding and bedding areas, and daily whitetail deer activity patterns will pay big dividends when the season opens.

Many hunters prefer to use a bow and arrow to hunt deer. Wishes For Wildlife Foundation encourages bow hunting specifically for does on two of its properties. Bow hunting is a solitary sport with hunters trying to harvest a deer by utilizing masking their human odor with covering scents such as doe urine, wearing camouflage clothing, and utilizing ground or tree stands which are also camouflaged. This is a high quality experience since bow hunters must be able to get within 20 to 30 yards of a deer to make a killing shot. In Iowa, about 25 percent of the bow hunters are successful in harvesting at least one deer each year. Bow hunting seasons are several months long and include the major portion of the "rut" when deer are more mobile and less wary.

What are the early and late ruts? Hunters and outdoor writers often talk about the rut being early or late. In Iowa, the breeding season for white-tailed deer is fairly predictable from year to year. Within a specific area, habitat conditions not only affect fawn survival, but can affect the timing of breeding. A doe in poor condition or a young doe may not breed until late in the season.

Bucks, like hunters, have a tendency to move around during cool weather. Bucks with hardened antlers are ready to breed and are looking for a willing doe. More movement means more opportunity to encounter a receptive doe. This increased movement helps give rise to the idea that cold weather causes the rut. However, this theory is disproved by whitetail deer breeding in tropical climates.