Plant of the Month
Eriogonum giganteum - Saint Catherine’s Lace
Type: Evergreen shrub.
Light: Full sun preferred
Soil: Good draining but adaptable
Water: Occasional to rainfall only
A wonderful native from the Channel Islands, Eriogonum giganteum is California’s largest buckwheat and if you have the room for this lovely plant (about 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide or even larger) you will not be disappointed! The plant produces giant cream-pink umbels of flowers bigger than dinner plates that form an umbrella over the grey foliage starting in May (sometimes even April). It is covered in these intricate lacelike clusters of flowers so thick you can barely see the foliage!
Our longest flowering Buckwheat, blooms continue for a few months, during which time the plant will be a magnet for butterflies, bees and the like. (It’s one of the most popular nectar sources for butterflies such as the California Blues & Hairstreaks, which are suffering from dwindling habitats.) Afterwards, the giant umbels fade to a rust color, and seeds form supplying local birds with food. Even when not in flower it is an attractive plant with soft wooly gray oval leaves and a rounded form which can be left alone or have its lower limbs removed to form a small garden “tree” of 5-6 feet tall. The old and gnarly bark is lovely when exposed in such a manner.
It is very versatile, enjoying hot and dry climates as well as cooler coastal gardens. It prefers well drained soils but also does quite well in clay (like here in the Garden). It is exceptional on slopes but can be used in many garden situations (size allowing). Just don’t put it somewhere thinking you will be able to prune it to keep it smaller than 4 or 5 feet. Constant shearing will mean no flowers!
The flowers of Saint Catherine’s Lace make very nice cut material in both dried and fresh arrangements often retaining its exact color when picked-creamy white in May and rusty cinnamon in August. As mentioned, flowers left to go to seed provide food for birds but also contribute seedlings for the garden which you can choose to keep, give to neighbors, or simply pull if unwanted.
St. Catherine’s Lace requires no summer water once established and only minimal pruning by cutting off old bloom stalks when the blossoms start to fall apart. You can prune a few inches into “end growth” but cutting into old wood is risky since the plant resents such invasions and may not resprout from such harsh cuts. Removal of an entire branch to reveal the structure of the plant is fine however. Aphids can arrive to feed but seldom do much damage.