17 Deer Resistant Native Plants to Grow This Season

Are you looking for some native plants to add to your garden that will keep the deer away? There are many different options to choose from, depending on your hardiness zone. In this article, gardening expert Liessa bowen shares some of her favorites.

deer resistant native plants

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Sometimes gardeners plant a beautiful array of flowers expecting to enjoy the colorful blooms, but instead, they feed the resident deer a very gourmet (and costly) feast! If you live in an area with browsing deer, you may wonder what are some of the best plants you can grow that won’t be eaten by wildlife.

No plant is 100% guaranteed “deer proof.” If deer are in the area, they may nibble on various plants, even if they aren’t deer favorites. Deer may also use plants to rub their heads and bodies, and deer may lay down in clusters of vegetation, flattening them into a bedding area.

But there are plenty of native plants you can grow that won’t generally be bothered by deer. Native plants are often easy to grow and low-maintenance because they are already well-adapted to the local environmental conditions. Native plants also offer tremendous benefits to insect pollinators and songbirds that feed on pollen, nectar, and seeds.

In general, however, there are certain types of plants that deer tend to avoid. So, what sorts of plants do deer not like? The following plant characteristics will help deter deer.

  • Aromatic – Deer often avoid plants with very aromatic leaves and stems, such as herbs, mints, and others with strong or pungent scents.
  • Prickly – Prickly leaves and stems are very effective at deterring browsing deer.
  • Leathery – Plants with tough, thick, or leathery leaves are generally left in peace.
  • Hairy – Leaves that have stiff hairs are not favored by deer.

How else can you keep deer out of your garden? Don’t invite the deer by offering them special food. Deer are wild animals and can find plenty of food on their own. If you invite them with a salt lick or special treats, they will want to spend more time in your yard. Use a fence at least 8 feet tall around the garden. Deer repellants can work but need to be reapplied frequently.

The following list includes 17 fantastic native plants you can easily grow in your home landscape. You will find an assortment of perennial wildflowers, grasses, ferns, vines, and shrubs that deer tend to avoid.

Bee Balm

Close-up of Monarda didyma flowering plants in a sunny garden. Monarda didyma, commonly known as bee balm or scarlet beebalm, is a perennial herbaceous plant. The leaves of Monarda didyma are lanceolate, fragrant, dark green in color. They have a slightly serrated edge and are arranged in pairs opposite each other along the stems. The flowers of Monarda didyma are showy and have vibrant shades of red. They are tubular in shape with a prominent central cone and a ring of brightly colored petals surrounding it.
Bee balm attracts pollinators and deters deer, preferring full sun and well-draining soil.
BOTANICAL NAME Monarda didyma
PLANT TYPE Herbaceous perennial
SUN REQUIREMENTS Full sun to part shade
HEIGHT 2 to 4 feet
HARDINESS ZONES 4 to 9

Bee balm is a magnet for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds and would make an excellent addition to a pollinator garden or for anyone who wants to attract hummingbirds.

The dense flowerheads feature clusters of bright red, tubular blossoms that last throughout the summer months. The leaves have a minty fragrance which helps protect this plant from browsing deer and rabbits.

Bee balm prefers full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Plants grown in full sun will generally have more compact growth and more robust flowering than those grown in the shade.

Soil should be rich and moist, and well-draining. Plants are easily grown from seed and will spread readily in ideal conditions by both self-seeding and underground rhizomes. When clusters of plants become too dense, thin them to improve air circulation and reduce fungal diseases like powdery mildew.

Butterfly Weed

Close-up of Asclepias tuberosa flowering plant in a sunny garden. The plant has narrow lanceolate leaves that grow alternately along the stems. They are dark green in color and appear slightly fuzzy. The flowers are small, tubular, bright orange in color and form a distinct crown shape.
Butterfly weed is an easy-to-grow perennial with vibrant orange flowers that attract butterflies.
BOTANICAL NAME Asclepias tuberosa
PLANT TYPE Herbaceous perennial
SUN REQUIREMENTS Full sun
HEIGHT 1 to 2.5 feet
HARDINESS ZONES 3 to 9

Butterfly weed, also called butterfly milkweed, is a beautiful perennial wildflower that is easy to grow in the home garden.  This plant grows best in full sun with dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil. Butterfly weed develops a long taproot that plunges deep into the soil below. Once established, this native plant is drought tolerant. Plants can be easily started from seed but, depending on the variety, may only start to flower in their second year.

Butterfly weed flowers are very showy and appreciated by humans and a wide variety of insects. Butterflies love the deep orange flowers that bloom throughout the summer months. It’s the perfect plant for creating a butterfly garden.

Milkweeds are host plants for the monarch butterfly caterpillar, so anyone wanting to attract butterflies to their yard should have at least one variety of milkweed. After flowering, distinctive elongated seed pods form, which later open to reveal a mass of fluffy seeds, ready to fly away and grow more butterfly weed plants!

Cinnamon Fern

Close-up of Osmundastrum cinnamomea, commonly known as cinnamon fern, is a perennial fern species. The leaves of Osmundastrum cinnamomea are large and pinnate, giving the fern a delicate and graceful appearance. The leaves are divided into smaller leaflets called feathers, which are arranged alternately along the stem. The foliage is bright green.
Cinnamon fern is a large clump-forming fern with unique golden-brown fronds.
BOTANICAL NAME Osmundastrum cinnamomea
PLANT TYPE Fern
SUN REQUIREMENTS Part shade to full shade
HEIGHT 2 to 3 feet
HARDINESS ZONES 3 to 9

Ferns are an excellent addition to any shade garden. The cinnamon fern is a fairly large clump-forming fern with rich, full foliage. In early spring, unusual-looking upright, golden-brown, spore-bearing fronds emerge, adding some colorful visual appeal. These spore fronds are short-lived and fade away by summer. Ferns are not bothered by browsing deer or rabbits.

Cinnamon fern adds some nice variety to the more typical leafy garden vegetation. The fronds are showy and very appealing, adding vegetative contrast to any other shade-loving plant.

The cinnamon fern grows best in a shaded location with rich, moist soil. This fern tolerates fairly wet soil conditions and would be a good choice for a lower, wetter area of your yard.

Columbine

Close-up of a flowering plant Aquilegia canadensis in a sunny garden. Aquilegia canadensis, commonly known as the red columbine or Canadian columbine, is a perennial flowering plant native to North America. The leaves of Aquilegia canadensis are attractive and intricately divided, resembling rounded lobes or fern-like structures. The flowers are distinctly shaped with spur petals that open to form long tubular spurs at the back. The outer petals are red or crimson, while the inner petals are yellow.
Columbine is deer-resistant and thrives in full sun or partial shade.
BOTANICAL NAME Aquilegia canadensis
PLANT TYPE Herbaceous perennial
SUN REQUIREMENTS Full sun to part shade
HEIGHT 2 to 3 feet
HARDINESS ZONES 3 to 8

There are many very showy and colorful columbine cultivars. The native columbine is red with a yellow center. It is commonly found in moist woodlands of eastern North America and is a beautiful late-spring wildflower. The flowers are very showy, uniquely shaped, and favored by early-season hummingbirds.

Deer may nibble on young columbine plants, but once the plants get a little larger, they are generally left alone and will bloom freely. Columbine grows very well in full sun or partial shade. It prefers medium-moisture soil but will also tolerate occasional drought.

Foliage looks best in early spring. The foliage will brown and die back for the summer after flowering, especially in warmer climates and sunny habitats. Keep plants well-spaced to improve air circulation and reduce the growth of powdery mildew.

Coral Honeysuckle

Close-up of a flowering plant Lonicera sempervirens in a sunny garden. The leaves of Lonicera sempervirens are oval, glossy, dark green. They grow in pairs opposite each other along vertical stems. The flowers of Lonicera sempervirens are tubular and trumpet-shaped, resembling corals in color. They bloom in clusters, displaying shades of bright red, orange, or yellow.
Coral honeysuckle is a native climbing vine with red trumpet-shaped flowers that attract hummingbirds.
BOTANICAL NAME Lonicera sempervirens
PLANT TYPE Vine
SUN REQUIREMENTS Full sun to part shade
HEIGHT 8 to 15 feet
HARDINESS ZONES 4 to 9

Coral honeysuckle should not be confused with the native trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) or the invasive Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). The coral honeysuckle is native to the southeastern United States. It grows best in full sun but is quite tolerant of partial shade, though it may not bloom as well in the shade. Soil should be average-quality, medium-moisture, and well-drained.

Coral honeysuckle is a vigorous climbing vine that should be grown with a sturdy support. Plant it near a large trellis, or arbor, or along a fence where it can grow freely without being disturbed. Vines may be evergreen or semi-evergreen in warmer climates.

The long narrow trumpet-shaped flowers are bright red and very showy. The flowers are very attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and other insect pollinators. Coral honeysuckle is also the host plant for a few species of butterflies and moths.

Green and Gold

Close-up of Chrysogonum virginianum flowering plants in a sunny garden. Chrysogonum virginianum, commonly known as goldenstar or green and gold, is a perennial wildflower. The leaves of Chrysogonum virginianum are small, rounded, serrated and bright green in color. They form dense, undersized clumps that form a lush ground cover. The flowers are star-shaped and have bright yellow petals. They bloom in clusters on wiry stems above the foliage.
Green and gold is a low-growing perennial with bright yellow flowers that bloom from spring to fall.
BOTANICAL NAME Chrysogonum virginianum
PLANT TYPE Herbaceous perennial
SUN REQUIREMENTS Part shade to full shade
HEIGHT 0.5 to 1 foot
HARDINESS ZONES 5 to 9

Green and gold, also called golden knee, is a low-growing perennial wildflower. This little plant makes an excellent ground cover for small areas but isn’t generally aggressive enough to colonize large areas. It grows best in a shade garden, out of direct sunlight. Give it medium-moisture, well-drained soil.

Green and gold has a long bloom time. It blooms first in the spring and produces beautiful, low-growing, bright yellow flowers. In ideal conditions, plants will then continue to bloom sporadically throughout the summer and into fall.

Late-season blooms tend not to be as prolific as early-season blooms. Plants will slowly form loose colonies by creeping slowly and self-seeding in ideal conditions.

Little Bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparium, commonly known as little bluestem, is a perennial grass native to North America. The leaves of Schizachyrium scoparium are thin and narrow, bluish-green in color. They grow in dense clumps and have a fine texture that gives the plant an attractive and delicate appearance.
Little bluestem is a native ornamental grass that thrives in full sun and tolerates drought.
BOTANICAL NAME Schizachyrium scoparium
PLANT TYPE Ornamental grass
SUN REQUIREMENTS Full sun
HEIGHT 2 to 4 feet
HARDINESS ZONES 3 to 9

Little bluestem is an attractive ornamental grass that is native throughout eastern North America. It thrives in full sun with dry to medium-moisture soil. Once established, little bluestem tolerates drought and other harsh growing conditions. It can be grown from seed or by dividing larger established clusters.

Little bluestem is bluish-green throughout the growing season. In late summer, reddish flowers bloom on taller stems. By fall, seedheads turn white and fluffy, and plants turn reddish-bronze and look quite striking as part of the fall landscape.

Grow plants together in masses for an impressive visual effect. In late winter or early spring, before fresh growth appears, trim the vegetation to the ground to allow space for fresh growth.

Maidenhair Fern

Close-up of Adiantum pedatum, commonly known as the maidenhair fern, is a delicate and graceful perennial fern species. The plant has large, fan-shaped leaves divided into numerous finger-shaped leaflets, giving them a lacy appearance. The leaflets are arranged along dark, wiry stems radiating from a central point, resembling the shape of a maidenhair comb. Leaves are bright green.
Maidenhair fern is a hardy and beautiful fern that spreads slowly, prefers shade, and is tolerant of dry soil.
BOTANICAL NAME Adiantum pedatum
PLANT TYPE Fern
SUN REQUIREMENTS Part shade to full shade
HEIGHT 1 to 2.5 feet
HARDINESS ZONES 3 to 8

Maidenhair fern, also known as northern maidenhair fern, is a beautiful fern that would be welcome in the home landscape. It is hardy and easy to grow. This fern will naturalize and slowly spread by underground rhizomes to form colonies. Maidenhair fern grows best in the shade with medium-moisture well-drained soil.

Maidenhair fern generates a series of thin, dark, erect stems. A C-shaped portion is lined with delicate leafy fronds at the tops of the stems.

Maidenhair fern looks beautiful in large masses and, while taller than a typical ground cover, is still small enough to make a good plant for borders and edges. This plant is not bothered by deer or rabbits; once established, it is quite tolerant of dryer soil conditions.

Narrowleaf Mountain Mint

Close-up of Pycnanthemum tenuifolium flowering plants in a sunny garden. The leaves of the plant are narrow and elongated, located opposite each other along the stem and have a dark green color. The flowers of Pycnanthemum tenuifolium are small and white, forming dense inflorescences at the top of the stems.
Narrowleaf mountain mint is a native plant that prefers full sun and well-drained soil.
BOTANICAL NAME Pycnanthemum tenuifolium
PLANT TYPE Herbaceous perennial
SUN REQUIREMENTS Full sun
HEIGHT 2 to 3 feet
HARDINESS ZONES 4 to 8

Narrowleaf mountain mint is native to prairies, roadsides, and open woodlands of eastern North America. It grows best in full sun but will tolerate some light partial shade. It prefers dry to medium moisture, well-drained soil. Like many mints, mountain mint is a vigorous grower who can grow aggressively. Control unwanted spread by growing mint in a container or regularly thinning dense clusters.

The narrowleaf mountain mint is a very attractive plant. It grows a series of upright stems lined with thin leaves. The leaves and stems have a very pleasant minty aroma when crushed, which makes them unappealing to browsing herbivores.

Clusters of tiny white flowers bloom throughout the summer, attracting numerous pollinators. Deadheading spent flower heads can help prevent self-seeding.

New England Aster

Close-up of Symphyotrichum novae-angliae flowering plants in a sunny garden. Two bees collect nectar from flowers. The plant has lanceolate, serrated dark green leaves. They grow along sturdy stems, creating a bushy and lush appearance. The flowers of Symphyotrichum novae-angliae are similar in appearance to daisies and are bright purple in color with a central dark orange disc.
New England aster is a hardy plant that grows vigorously and attracts pollinators with its abundant purple flowers.
BOTANICAL NAME Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
PLANT TYPE Herbaceous perennial
SUN REQUIREMENTS Full sun
HEIGHT 3 to 6 feet
HARDINESS ZONES 4 to 8

Despite its regional name, the New England aster is native to prairies and grasslands throughout central and eastern North America. This plant is hardy and easy to grow in the home landscape. It grows vigorously, provides a beautiful display of flowers, and attracts many late-season pollinators!

The purple flowers with golden-yellow centers are abundant and showy. They bloom in profusion each fall and provide late-season color until the first frost.

New England Aster grows best in full sun with dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil. Plants can grow quite tall and may benefit from staking or caging to keep stems upright. Foliage can be cut to the ground after the plant dies back, as it will completely regrow the following spring.

Nodding Onion

Close-up of flowering Allium cernuum plants in a sunny garden. Allium cernuum, commonly known as nodding onion, is a perennial plant native to North America. Allium cernuum flowers grow on thin curved stems that curve down. The small pink to lavender bell-shaped flowers form clusters at the tops of the stems.
Nodding onion has purple flowers, an onion scented, and attracts butterflies.
BOTANICAL NAME Allium cernuum
PLANT TYPE Bulb
SUN REQUIREMENTS Full sun to part shade
HEIGHT 1 to 1.5 feet
HARDINESS ZONES 4 to 8

The nodding onion is a fairly diminutive plant with beautiful nodding purple flowers. Thin, sparse, grass-like leaves have a mild oniony aroma when crushed, which deters deer and rabbits from bothering them. The showy flowers bloom in mid-summer and attract butterflies and bees.

Grow nodding onion in full sun for best flowering, although it will also tolerate some light shade. Give it average-quality, dry to medium-moisture soil. It’s important that the soil is well-drained because wet soil will cause bulbs to rot. Nodding onion will slowly spread by bulb offsets and self-seeding. Larger clusters during peak bloom look especially striking.

Prickly Pear

Top view, close-up of a flowering plant Opuntia macrorhiza in a sunny garden. Opuntia macrorhiza, commonly known as plains prickly pear, is a succulent perennial plant native to North America. The leaves of Opuntia macrorhiza are actually modified stems called cladodia. These cladodes are flat paddle-like structures covered with clusters of spines. The flowers of Opuntia macrorhiza are a striking feature of the plant. They emerge from the edges of the cladodes and have shades of yellow and orange. The flowers are cup-shaped and quite large.
Prickly pear is a native cactus that thrives in full sun and poor soil.
BOTANICAL NAME Opuntia macrorhiza
PLANT TYPE Cactus
SUN REQUIREMENTS Full sun
HEIGHT 0.5 to 1 foot
HARDINESS ZONES 3 to 9

Prickly pear, also known as plains prickly pear, is a cactus native to rocky, grassy, and sandy areas of central North America. This plant is well-adapted to full sun and poor soil conditions. In the home garden, grow prickly pear cactus in dry, gritty soil with excellent drainage.

Plains prickly pear tends to stay quite low, unlike other prickly pears in the Opuntia genus. Its thick pads grow upwards until they topple to the ground, reroot, and keep growing. Each pad is sparsely covered with long, prominent spines and clusters of tiny spines, which makes this plant unpalatable to deer and rabbits for obvious reasons. Beautiful, large, showy yellow flowers bloom from late spring into mid-summer, followed by bright red, showy fruits.

Purple Coneflower

Close-up of flowering plants Echinacea purpurea, commonly known as purple coneflower, is a perennial flowering plant native to North America. Echinacea leaves are purple lanceolate, slightly rough, dark green in color. Echinacea purpurea flowers are cone-shaped and pale purple in color. They are made up of colorful petals that surround a spiky, cone-shaped, copper-colored center.
Purple coneflower is a native, hardy plant that attracts pollinators with its beautiful, long-lasting flowers.
BOTANICAL NAME Echinacea purpurea
PLANT TYPE Herbaceous perennial
SUN REQUIREMENTS Full sun
HEIGHT 2 to 4 feet
HARDINESS ZONES 3 to 8

Purple coneflower is a classic wildflower native to tallgrass prairie regions of eastern and central North America. This plant is hardy and easy to grow. It is also beautiful, long-lasting, and a valuable resource for pollinators. The large, showy, pinkish-purple flowers bloom throughout summer and attract many butterflies and bees. After flowering, seed-eating birds enjoy the seed heads.

Purple coneflower is easily grown from seeds. It may take a year or two for a seed to mature into a flower-producing plant, but it is well worth the wait.

Grow these coneflowers in full sun, although they tolerate light afternoon shade. Soil should be average-quality to rich, dry to medium-moisture, and well-drained. Deer may nibble young, tender plants during the early spring months, but as the plants mature, they develop stiff hairs, deterring further deer nibbling.

Rose Mallow Hibiscus

Close-up of a flowering Hibiscus moscheutos plant in a sunny garden, against a blurred green background. The leaves of Hibiscus moscheutos are broad, lobed, and dark green in color. They are heart-shaped or palm-shaped, with serrated edges. The flowers of Hibiscus moscheutos are showy, large, with five overlapping petals that form a prominent funnel shape. They have a soft pink hue with a dark pink contrasting center.
Rose mallow hibiscus is a large, shrub-like perennial that produces beautiful, showy flowers.
BOTANICAL NAME Hibiscus moscheutos
PLANT TYPE Herbaceous perennial
SUN REQUIREMENTS Full sun
HEIGHT 3 to 7 feet
HARDINESS ZONES 5 to 9

The rose mallow hibiscus is a perennial wildflower with shrub-like growth. This plant can grow quite large and bushy and does especially well in areas with medium to wet soil. It is well-adapted to average-quality medium-moisture soil as long as the soil stays consistently moist. This plant is not tolerant of drought and should be watered during extended dry periods. It is, however, tolerant of deer and rabbits.

Rose mallow hibiscus is a beautiful plant. From mid to late summer, it produces very large, showy flowers. The flowers are typically shades of pink with darker pink centers and prominent anthers and pistils. The flowers also attract butterflies and many other pollinators.

For best growth and flowering, this plant would benefit from organically rich soil or occasional applications of organic compost to add extra nutrition.

Threadleaf Coreopsis

Close-up of a flowering plant Coreopsis verticillata, commonly known as threadleaf coreopsis or tickseed, is a perennial flowering plant native to North America. The leaves of Coreopsis verticillata are finely divided and pinnate, arranged in whorls along the stems, with each leaflet narrow and filiform. The foliage is dark green. The flowers are similar to daisies and bloom profusely. They have bright and cheerful colors, ranging from yellow to gold. The flowers consist of a central disk surrounded by many ray-shaped petals.
Threadleaf coreopsis is a dainty plant with thin feathery leaves and abundant yellow flowers.
BOTANICAL NAME Coreopsis verticillata
PLANT TYPE Herbaceous perennial
SUN REQUIREMENTS Full sun
HEIGHT 2 to 3 feet
HARDINESS ZONES 3 to 9

Threadleaf coreopsis is a dainty-looking plant with very thin feathery leaves. It blooms freely during the summer months with a multitute of showy, bright yellow flowers. The flowers attract butterflies and other pollinators. They are also commonly used as cut flowers. This plant is easily grown from seed and will readily spread by self-seeding.

Threadleaf coreopsis is native to the eastern United States. It grows best in locations with full sun. It prefers dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil. This plant is quite versatile and tolerates drought, poor soil, and browsing mammals. Grow threadleaf coreopsis along a sunny border to enjoy its beauty all season.

Winterberry

Close-up of a deciduous shrub Ilex verticillata in a garden. The shrub has simple, alternate, elliptical leaves. They have a glossy dark green color and jagged edges. Berries of Ilex verticillata are small, round and bright red.
Winterberry holly is a native plant that thrives in moist soil and attracts birds with red berries in winter.
BOTANICAL NAME Ilex verticillata
PLANT TYPE Deciduous shrub
SUN REQUIREMENTS Full sun to part shade
HEIGHT 6 to 12 feet
HARDINESS ZONES 3 to 9

 Winterberry is a holly that is native to central and eastern North America. It is primarily found in swampy forested areas and is well-adapted to medium to wet soils. Grow it in full sun or partial shade. This plant would make a good hedge or border planting in a moist location. Unlike many hollies, this plant goes dormant in the winter and does not have tough, prickly leaves.

Winterberry holly has slightly leathery leaves that stay green throughout the growing season. In mid-summer, clusters of small white flowers bloom along the stems, attracting bees and other pollinators. Winterberry has separate male and female plants.

Pollinated female flowers will develop into bright red berries. After winterberry loses its leaves for the winter, the colorful berries persist, attracting birds and adding interest to the winter landscape.

Witch Hazel

Close-up of a flowering plant Hamamelis virginiana against a blurred background. Hamamelis virginiana, commonly known as witch hazel, is a deciduous shrub native to North America. Witch hazel flowers are small, delicate and fragrant. They have a distinctive appearance with four narrow strap-shaped petals that are bright yellow in color. Petals are collected in inflorescences, which gives the flower a beautiful and attractive appearance.
Witch hazel is a colorful shrub with yellow flowers and attractive seed capsules.
BOTANICAL NAME Hamamelis virginiana
PLANT TYPE Deciduous shrub
SUN REQUIREMENTS Full sun to part shade
HEIGHT 15 to 20 feet
HARDINESS ZONES 3 to 8

Witch hazel is an interesting shrub that adds late-season color to the home landscape. In autumn, the leaves turn from green to yellow as days get cooler. From mid to late fall, as the leaves turn brown and fall off, long-petaled thin yellowish flowers bloom along the woody stems of this plant. After leaf fall, the entire plant seems to be lined with yellow, followed by small greenish-brownish seed capsules, which add continued interest into the winter months.

Witch hazel is native to open woodlands of eastern North America. Grow it in full sun to partial shade with medium-moisture, well-drained soil. Each spring, prune root suckers to prevent plants from forming dense thickets. Witch hazel attracts birds, but it is unpalatable to browsing deer.

Final Thoughts

Growing native plants can be rewarding because they are beautiful and tend to be low-maintenance and beneficial to wildlife. If you don’t want to provide free food for browsing deer, it’s good to know there are plenty of showy deer-resistant plants you can grow around your home.

Choose the best plants for your particular environmental conditions, and you will soon have a thriving landscape. Be sure to choose plants that will grow within your climate zone so they will grow back year after year.

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