Most dove hunters have undoubtedly viewed the abundance of seed found in a mourning dove or white-wing dove’s crop while processing harvested birds. It’s likely that nearly all of the crop contents were composed of seed, as mourning dove and white-wing dove diets are comprised of more than 99 percent seed by weight. Even though these dove species are known to consume seeds from over 1,000 plant species nation-wide, seeds from certain plant species or families are represented repeatedly in dove diets. In Texas, doveweed is king.
Doveweed, as the name implies, is a super important group of plants for dove. Instead of one plant species, the name “doveweed” is used in reference to several plants in the Croton genus. In fact, there are more than 25 species of Croton in Texas, and at least one-third of these species are referred to as doveweed in the areas they grow. Doveweeds are members of the euphorbiaceae family, which includes other important plants to dove such as spurges, sandmats and the Chinese tallow tree. Excluding crop seed, nationwide, this group of plants is represented as the 3rd most important plant group for dove, behind the grass and legume (e.g. beans) families (the sunflower family is ranked 4th). In Texas, plants from the euphorbiaceae family are the most represented in dove crops.
In two studies, Dillon (1961) and Davison and Sullivan (1963), reported that croton seed was 31 percent and 37 percent, respectively, of seed content (by volume) in mourning dove crops in Texas. Croton was one of 28 plant species that routinely comprised more than 99 percent of crop contents. Davison and Sullivan (1963) also reported that four doveweed species were of 63 preferred plants among 144 plant species documented in mourning dove crops.
There are three primary reasons the doveweeds are so important to dove in Texas. First, this plant guild is readily accessible to dove statewide as a species of doveweed can be found in every county across the state. Secondly, the seeds of doveweed are highly preferred and nutritious, as they are slick-sided (this is an important attribute in seed selection by dove), relatively large, and high in energy-rich oil and carbohydrates (Fig. 1). Doveweed seed is also high in crude protein, as levels tend to range between 20-25 percent. Doveweed seed meets both the energy and protein demands of mourning and white-winged dove. This attribute is generally not the norm for most plant species, as dove typically must consume a variety of plant seed to meet dietary needs. Finally, the doveweeds are prolific seed producers. In a study conducted by Fessler (1960), wooly croton (a doveweed) reportedly produced between 307 to 461 pounds of seed per acre. Now that’s a lot of seed!
Across the state, the most important species of doveweed (in order of prevalence in dove crops) include: 1. wooly croton (Croton capitatus); 2. one-seed or prairie tea croton (Croton monanthogynus); 3. Pott’s croton (Croton pottsii); 4. Texas croton (Croton texensis); and 5. northern or tropic croton (Croton glandulosus) (Fig. 2).
With the exception of Pott’s croton (a warm season perennial), the other species are annuals. Wooly croton, Texas croton, and northern croton tend to favor sandy soils, while one-seed croton typically occurs on more clayey soils. Pott’s croton is found on a variety of soil types on the semi-arid rangelands of West Texas. Although the seed sizes vary among species, most have seeds that resemble a beetle in appearance with mottled coloration (Fig. 1).
Most annual doveweeds can be cultivated easily by disking or plowing soil during late winter (Fig. 3). This practice stimulates croton emergence as
conditions warm with soil moisture. On most sites, seed of at least one of these species will likely be present in the soil seed bank, and the plant’s prevalence should increase with each year of cultivation. Deep-disking is best (if possible) as this method tends to favor more robust plants as their roots are able to grow deeper into the soil profile. As always, cultivation is highly discouraged in diverse native plant communities, and this practice should be focused on sites dominated by non-native plants or those that have seen cultivation in the past. In the case no doveweed emerges in sandy soil plots on the eastern one-third of the state, wooly croton seed is available commercially and can be sown at 10 bulk lbs. of seed per acre. The stand may be weak initially due to seed dormancy, but will improve with each year of cultivation. Finally, most doveweeds are unpalatable to cattle and deer, so they can be grown without fencing from these animals. Depending on the species, the area of the state, temperature, rainfall, and the timing of disturbance, doveweeds shatter seed from May through December. However, most seed is released during late summer though early fall, just in time for dove season.
Dove consume seed from many planted crops and wild plants, but in Texas, few plants stand up to the importance and quality seed provided by the doveweeds. Fortunately, this guild of plants is easy to grow and can provide fantastic hunting opportunity statewide.
BY ERIC GRAHMANN, Ph.D