Do Deer Eat Irises? Here’s What You Need to Know!

Gracious and elegant, deer are certainly one of the most majestic animals in the world,

However, many gardeners see them more as a menace than as the lovely creatures they are.

Deer will eat almost anything, including nuts and fruits, but particularly enjoy feasting on the leaves of the plants gardeners worked so hard to cultivate.

Often, they will leave a real mess behind them and decimate the garden greenery.

However, not all plants are the target of hungry deer.

Certain plant species are deer-resistant and these animals will typically leave them be for various reasons.

As irises are one of the most popular garden plants, many homeowners wonder if these wonderful perennials are a part of the deer’s buffet.

I’ll explain do deer eat irises or if you can grow them freely and don’t have to worry whether these magnificent animals will help themselves to your plants.

Do Deer Eat Irises?

The good news for homeowners who love iris is that deer, typically, won’t eat these plants.

So, even if you live in a deer-populated area or near the woods, your irises will likely be safe, at least for becoming a lunch for the deer.

The only exception and the only time you may see the deer feasting on the iris is if they’re starving and there’s no other food available.

Iris falls in the group of deer-resistant plants mainly due to certain features that these plants have and that repel most animals, including deer.

Iris plants are toxic to a certain level, taste bad, and emit a strong and pungent smell.

All these factors working together are usually enough to deter the deer from eating iris and have them looking for other sources of food.

Below, I’ll explain in more detail all the main reasons why deer commonly don’t eat iris.

Why Deer Don’t Eat Irises?

Deer between flowers.

Deer love feasting on various greenery, but some plants feature certain characteristics that repel these animals, and the iris has several of them.


The main reason why the deer avoid eating iris is the toxicity of this plant.

This is particularly the case with types of the iris that feature higher toxicity levels, such as purple iris.

In general, deer won’t eat anything poisonous as eating these plants can be very harmful to the deer and cause serious health issues.

The outcome will rarely be fatal, as the deer would have to eat a large amount of iris for this to happen but nonetheless, even small amounts can cause them a lot of discomfort and digestive issues.

Bad Taste

Deer will usually look to eat plants with a pleasant and desirable flavor profile, and the iris is definitely not a part of this group.

As the iris has a very bitter taste and flavor, deer will commonly look elsewhere to satisfy their hunger unless there are no other options.

Strong and Pungent Smell

Even before they get a chance to bite on iris leaves, deer will feel their smell and likely be repelled by it.

While most people enjoy the strong aroma of iris, this potent odor bothers the deer and makes them stay away from this plant.

Of course, like most animals, deer have a stronger sense of smell than humans, so it’s perfectly understandable why they would be deterred by the pungent scent of iris.

This is also the reason why irises are often planted in gardens as companion plants whose role is to repel various pests.

Unpleasant Texture

Most types of iris feature a bit of rough texture, with hairs and ridges that run along the edges of the leaf.

Because of this, chewing on iris leaves will cause a rather unpleasant feeling and agitate most animals, including deer.

So, the deer will rather opt for plants that feel more satisfying in their mouth while chewing on them.

Thick Foliage

Another thing that deer usually look to avoid when looking for something to eat is thick foliage, with leathery or fibrous leaves.

The iris’ foliage is typically very dense and makes it hard for deer to chew on a single leaf, so they will stay away and try to find another plant to feast on.

Sharp Leaf Edges

One more reason why deer don’t eat iris is the grass-like foliage of this plant.

The iris leaves feature sharp edges that can harm the deer and damage their palate.

Plants that have leaves like this are also hard to digest and can irritate the deer’s oral cavity.

Do Deer Avoid All Iris Varieties?

Purple Irises.

Nearly every variety of iris is deer-resistant, so you can grow all the most popular types without worrying that deer might eat them.

Here’s a short overview of how the most common iris varieties repel deer.

Siberian Iris

Siberian iris is one of the most popular types of this plant, known for its beauty and hardiness.

This variety also has a very harsh taste and potent smell that the deer can smell from afar, so they will likely not get even close.

Because of this, Siberian irises are often incorporated into deer-resistant fences.

Bearded Iris

Another popular variety is the bearded iris, known for its downward-hanging petals that make the plant look similar to a beard.

However, it also has a particularly pungent odor, which is the number one reason why deer typically avoid it.

Japanese Iris

Japanese iris is one of the rare varieties that can thrive near the water, as most of the other types of iris don’t enjoy this kind of environment.

This is why they’re particularly popular in gardens that also have water features.

Another reason is their ability to repel deer, mainly due to their grass-like leaves that feature a texture that’s unpleasant for the animals and makes it difficult to chew on.

Plus, they are known to have a very nasty taste, which also causes deer to stay away from this iris variety.

African Iris

Native to South Africa, the African iris is one of the varieties of this plant that can’t tolerate the cold and thrives only in areas with a warm climate.

However, when in a favorable environment, the African iris grows rapidly and quickly forms dense clumps.

The rigid structure of these clumps makes the plant very difficult to chew on and eat, which is why it’s one of the types of iris most likely to repel the deer.

Dutch Iris

Dutch iris is one of the favorite plants among gardeners whose gardens are often attached by various pests, including deer.

Not only do they have the strong smell and unpleasant taste that repels deer, but Dutch irises also feature bulbs difficult to dig up by squirrels, rabbits, and similar rodents.

What Animals Eat Irises?

Rabbit sitting in the grass.

While your irises will likely be safe from deer, there are some other animals that don’t find this plant so repellent and enjoy eating on it.

If there’s something that’s eating your irises, here’s a list of the most probable culprits.


Rabbits are probably the gardener’s biggest enemy, especially when the garden is located in a more rural area.

They enjoy eating most plants, and this includes irises.

While they rarely go from the flowers or leaves, they love eating on the bulblike rhizome, meaning that they can do a lot of damage.

They do this even though iris bulbs, just like stems and leaves, are toxic to rabbits and they may occasionally vomit what they have eaten.


Even though the preferred diet of moles consists mainly of worms and similar insects, they will occasionally feast on the bulbs of the iris.

Still, as this isn’t their primary food, moles rarely cause a lot of damage.

However, the burrows they dig create extra air space in the soil and can hinder the development of the iris rhizome,


While they live in underground burrows, sometimes dug up by moles, voles travel and feed above the ground and, while they do it they feed on the leaves of various plants, including iris.

Usually, they will only eat foliage, leaving the flowers alone. They also enjoy eating iris seeds and seedlings.

Still, while they will feast on the iris when given the opportunity, they prefer some other plants, such as tulips, scilla, allium, or crocus.


As you can see, the answer to the question “do deer eat irises” is, in the majority of cases, negative.

This goes for almost all iris varieties.

Whenever they can, deer will avoid eating irises and family due to the toxicity, pungent odor, bitter taste, and unpleasant texture of these plants.

Still, in rare cases, when they’re starving and can’t find anything else to eat, they may feast on the iris, even though it may be damaging to their health.

So, if you live in an area populated by deer, you may use an iris as a deer deterrent and have it repel animals, so they won’t eat other, more tasteful garden plants.

You can incorporate irises in the fence, planting them at strategic locations around the perimeter of your garden.

Melissa Johnson
Melissa Johnson

Hello, I'm Melissa, owner and author of this website. I hope my article was able to help answer your questions. If you want to learn more about me, click the home icon above.

Companion Planting