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Eriogonum fasciculatum, California Buckwheat

Plant of the Month
August 2011

Eriogonum fasciculatum, California Buckwheat

What: Eriogonum fasciculatum, California Buckwheat
Type: Evergreen Shrub
Light: Full sun to partial shade
Soil: Likes good draining soils but is adaptable
Water: Drought tolerant

California buckwheat is our state’s most widespread buckwheat and is commonly found in chaparral and coastal sage plant communities. This low, evergreen shrub is seen covering our hillsides in its pale blooms for roughly half the year. It is a tough dependable plant with much going for it.

Before it blooms some say the plant reminds them of Rosemary, but once it flowers any resemblance is gone. The lovely and dense flower-heads develop in walnut-size balls at the ends of branching stems from April to November. Once bloomed they change colors from pale pink, to cream, and by fall these flowers remain on the plant in a drier, rusty-brown state which is often considered just as lovely as the paler blooms of spring. These flower clusters are extremely attractive to a very broad range of our native pollinators and are the larval host plant for some of our often overlooked smaller butterflies such as the Mormon metalmark, Gorgon copper, and many of the Hairstreaks.

Often the flower heads cover the plant such that one barely notices the foliage, which bears a resemblance to chamise. The leaves are evergreen, narrow, and leathery-less than an inch long, and are gathered in bunches along the stems which are up to 5 feet long. (The species name fasciculatum means "bundles"). The plants rarely exceed 4 feet in height but can spread to be 8 feet wide if allowed. Often these branches arch outward and down and where they touch the soil they root, making this one of our very best plants for hillsides.

Unfortunately, the commonness of Buckwheat in our local foothills may cause some to hesitate using it in our landscapes. But if you have the room, the abundance of long-blooming flowers, drought tolerance, and its attractiveness to native bees, butterflies, and other insects would make it a nice addition to any landscape.

If the somewhat large size of this versatile native is a deterrent to placing it in your landscape perhaps one of the cultivars would fit? They are denser, more compact and often smaller by half. They include: ‘Dana Point’, ‘Warriner Lytle’, ‘Theodore Payne’, and ‘Bruce Dickenson’.

Check your local California Native Plant Society website for dates of upcoming plant sales where this and other great native plants are for sale.