Virginia ‘Rabbit Proof’ Native Plants

Precious pink wiggly nose, slender silken ears, a fuzzy snowball of a tail  — all wrapped up in a cuddly but voracious plant-chomping package. Ahhh, our Eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) are undeniably adorable but they can be destructive in gardens, continually reducing a plant of its foliage until it (the plant) runs out of energy and expires.

An Eastern cottontail nibbles grasses. Photo by Matthew Hunt/flickr/cc.

There aren’t any cottontails foraging in our garden currently — perhaps because we have a fox, a few hawks and a high number of domestic dogs and free-roaming cats in our neighborhood. Rabbits are certainly fair game to all sorts of predators. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries writes, “Cottontails have been referred to as the “protein pill” of the animal kingdom. They are perhaps the most heavily preyed upon game species in Virginia. In most years, 80% or more of adult cottontails are killed.”

I have seen the damage a few marauding cottontails can do so at the request of a client, who reluctantly surrendered his garden to the bunnies, I did some hopping around on the web and found that there’s very little information out there on native plants that rabbits find unpalatable. Our deer receive all the attention.

I then turned to the people who I could count on to garden with native plants: the Virginia Master Naturalists, Arlington Regional Chapter (or ARMN, my alma mater). “What non-woody plants do your bunnies ignore?” I asked. Their comments and observations were crossed referenced with the information I found online and the following document was generated. A checkmark indicates if the rabbit-rejecting plant info was found through the web, ARMN, or both.

Here are a few examples of beautiful Virginia natives that are on the ‘Rabbit Proof’ list. They could also be native to your state’s region:

Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis).

Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis). This pretty plant attracts bumblebees and other pollinators.

Nodding onion (Allium cernuum) growing in a field in Shenandoah National Park. It also does well in garden conditions.

Nodding onion (Allium cernuum) growing in a field in Shenandoah National Park. It also does well in garden conditions.

 

 

 

Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) grows in drier woodland settings.

Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) grows in drier woodland settings. This photo was taken in Turkey Run Park in McLean, VA in early spring.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.). There are many different species for varying growing conditions. Goldenrods are also fantastic pollinator plants. Photo courtesy Matt Bright.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.). Goldenrods are fantastic pollinator plants. There are many different species for varying garden conditions. Photo courtesy Matt Bright.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta). Photo courtesy Matt Bright.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is a good seed-bearing plant for birds. Photo courtesy Matt Bright.

Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). This native species is also an early nectar source for our Ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). This native species is an early nectar source for our Ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia). Rabbits may enjoy the tender flower stalks of this springtime perennial.

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia). Rabbits may enjoy the tender flower stalks of this spring blooming perennial. Foamflower makes a good groundcover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata) is in the mint family and is usually not browsed by rabbit or deer. Photo by Bob Mullica, Flickr cc.

Spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata). Monarda spp. are in the mint family and are not usually browsed by rabbit or deer. Photo by Bob Mullica/flickr/cc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clustered mountainmint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is a pollinator's dream. Expect it to spread like other plants in the mint family.

Clustered mountainmint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is a pollinator’s dream. Expect it to spread like other plants in the mint family.

Golden alexander (Zizia aurea) blooms in early May and develops attractive seedheads.

Golden alexander (Zizia aurea) blooms in early May and develops attractive seedheads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I understand that nothing is truly ‘rabbit proof’; if Peter Rabbit is hungry enough, he’ll consume just about anything. So allow the list of rabbit-resistant natives to be your guide for adding new plants to your garden — but also consider offering up some wildflowers, tall grassy areas or veggies for your bunnies to enjoy. Provide them with plants that you’re less vested in. Wildlife can’t go grocery shopping like we can. And even cranky ol’ Mr. McGregor can’t argue with that.

Thank you to the following resources: Penn State Extension: Rabbit Resistance Garden and Landscape Plants and Native Plants Wildlife Gardens: Bunny Bustin’ Natives. Note: as of July 2016, Native Plants Wildlife Gardens is no longer active.