The wildflower bloom continues into the hot days of summer with displays of California buckwheat shrubs found throughout the Anza Valley. While not a wheat species, the plant is beneficial to nature and man.
Eriogonum fasciculatum, commonly called California buckwheat, is native to the southwestern United States. This hardy shrub grows naturally on slopes and canyons in chaparral and dry washes from San Diego County to Marin County in California. It is also found in Utah, Arizona and northwest Mexico.
Easily recognizable, California buckwheat forms a compact, spreading bush that can grow up to 6 feet in height and 9 feet across. The tiny leaves grow in clusters at nodes along the branches and are leathery, fuzzy underneath and rolled under along the edges. Flowers appear in dense clusters which may be several inches in diameter. Each tiny individual flower is pink and white and turn to a dark reddish rust color as the seed heads form.
California buckwheat attracts honey bees and other pollinators and is a good source of nectar in drier habitats.
There are four varieties of California buckwheat: Leafy Green California buckwheat, which is a brighter green variety that grows mostly on the coast and the western slopes of the coastal mountain ranges; California Interior buckwheat, which is a gray variety which is found in the desert regions and coastal foothills; Coastal California buckwheat, which grows exclusively on the coast, and Sonoran Desert California buckwheat, which is found in the Sonoran Desert and desert mountain areas.
The shrub is hardy and easy to grow. California buckwheat may even be purchased at some nurseries as a native drought-tolerant landscaping plant. It thrives in a well-drained, sunny site and does not need supplemental water after it becomes established.
As the plant sheds dried flowers and many of its leaves as summer progresses, it becomes an important source of natural mulch. California buckwheat is an important species in the sagebrush scrub ecosystems and is an excellent choice for wildlife and butterfly gardens. Leafy Green buckwheat can be found in nurseries to use as a low water ground cover shrub.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “California buckwheat has shown excellent performance as a conservation plant on critical areas and problem soils, such as serpentine, decomposed granites and high pH soils. Its showy white flowers also make it ideal for environmental enhancement uses. Due to its long flowering period, California buckwheat is also an excellent insectory plant that provides nectar sources for beneficial insects when planted next to crops as part of an Integrated Pest Management program.”
The small seeds and young shoots of the plant are edible. In the past, California buckwheat leaves have been traditionally used to line granaries to keep the acorn crop dry. The Cahuilla Indians made tea from the leaves and used this brew for the treatment of headaches and stomach pain. Hot root tea was ingested for colds and laryngitis. A poultice made from mashed roots was applied to wounds to aid healing. A tea of dried flowers or dried roots was taken to prevent heart problems. Modern studies have identified the leucoanthocyanidins in other Eriogonum species to be beneficial to the heart.
The seeds are an important food source for insects, rodents and birds, including native quail, songbirds, kangaroo rats and ants.
The pretty, dense flower clusters will continue to bloom well into October, as the California buckwheat endures another season as one of the Anza Valley’s most beneficial and beautiful plants.
To order California buckwheat starts for a garden or landscaping project, contact the Monrovia Nursery at www.monrovia.com/plant-catalog/plants/3583/california-buckwheat.
Diane Sieker can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.