Plant of the Moment - Eriogonum Nudum

Eriogonum nudum, AKA naked buckwheat, is a perennial shrub, confined to western America. It grows wild within a mile or two of our home, and last year, I propagated it from local seed.

Here is its baby picture - can we say "Awwww?"

Here it is at toddler stage:

And here it is going off to school:

Nice redness in the leaf stalks.

Unfortunately, I propagated it late - November 2010. This has meant planting in summer, and the poor things haven't had the best start in life, especially where planted in thin native soil. I found them growing on a slope above a stream, and I think the soil was richer in organic matter there.

How can you use this plant in your garden? Jepson horticultural database (all the good garden bits from Jepson) says:

Given excellent drainage (modification of compacted or other water-holding soils may be necessary), absence of frequent summer water (distance from water-loving plants), and full or nearly full sun (tolerates summer afternoon sun), grows especially well in zones 7, 14, 15, and 16 and also in zones 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 17, and 24.

I am surprised by the way it accepts full sun because I found it on a shady slope. But you have to watch those shady slopes - plants that like sun will thrive in gaps where sun falls during just a part of the day. It's fun to see how this happens.

Due to the bad timing and excesses of a novice propagator, I've been planting vast quantities of naked buckwheat here there and everywhere in my garden this year. (Also Alum Root - Heuchera micrantha - which has not bloomed this year.) So I've been able to see its first growth behavior under different sun and shade conditions. And also different soil - our pool area has imported garden soil, which is quite different from our native sandy clay-ey soil.

Here's what I've learned:

  • Very very easy to propagate from seed. Next time I would start the seeds so the baby plants can go in the soil by fall. I thought I could keep them over summer in pots but they were outgrowing their deep 4" pots, and I didn't have enough pots or potting soil to maintain them in gallon pots.
  • So far, deer don't touch it. They eat the common madia growing right next to it, and leave it alone. It hasn't been bothered by rabbits either.
  • Because planted late, perhaps, or because of our unusually cloudy and cool summer, they flowered late - not till mid July. I think they would start in late spring under more favorable circumstances.
  • In shade, the flowers are much delayed. Some have no flowers at all, others are showing buds.

  • Given lots of water and good soil, the tall slender flowering stalks of Eriogonum nudum inflate, grow very long, and fall over. Not recommended. But again, having planted late, I think the plants were not mature enough to support their massive flowering stalks.
  • In part to full sun, with a modicum of water, the flowering stalks grow to about 3 feet tall, and en masse hold up a beautiful floating display of little pinkish white puffballs of buckwheat flowers that the bees are just all over! The flowers are maybe half to three-quarters of an inch in diameter.

  • With insufficient water, the plants are stunted and I think roots did not really flourish well. I believe if I had timed it so the plants were popped into their future homes in fall, instead of spring - summer, the foliage would have been a bit more lush, and the root system would have been stronger, thus supporting the flower stalks without falling over so much.
  • The foliage grows generally in a low rosette, small somewhat cabbagy leaves, darkish green. Not unpleasant.

Interestingly, Annie's Annuals has a yellow flowering variant: Their comments would apply quite well to the regular old variety that grows locally native here:
Begins its bloom in late Spring, continuing sporadically for months. Bare, blooming stems reach 3’ in height, make great cut flowers & remain interesting through the Fall when the flowers fade to golden brown. An excellent habitat asset, this plant brings the bees & other local insects. When not in bloom, foliage stays very low – around 3” high & 8-10” wide. Commonly found in open, rocky exposures & thrives best under these conditions. Excellent when massed!
(Written by Claire Woods, propagator - nice when people get credit for their contributions!)

I'm not sure how they will look and behave in future years, or when propagated at a more appropriate time of year. You can expect a report maybe this time next year with that info.

What I can say now is that this is a great plant for our locale - Central Coast mountains - and it seems to do OK in a variety of situations - I'll definitely be massing it in more of my sunny flower beds this winter - not at the front of the bed probably - for a lovely long bloom season next year. I know our pollinators will be very happy.


Town Mouse said…
Very cool! Can I have some seeds? Now I want to grow a few myself, and I know just the spot.
Country Mouse said…
Yes, indeed - I'm collecting madia seeds like mad and will collect these when they're ready as well. I hesitate to offer them to anyone who emails me, though I'd like to. I'm not sure of the rules - prob within California is OK. They are native all over the west coast states, it seems.
Anonymous said…
Wow, the plant in that first shot looks fantastic! I have a very tiny naked buckwheat plant that has just lately started blooming for the first time, but mine has only one flower stalk and really only about three and a half leaves. Even your non-blooming seedlings are much leafier than my plant. But I'm pleased to see mine blooming at all. In fact, I'm pleased just to see that mine is alive at all, because for a while I had lost sight of it under the spring annuals and I thought it had died.
I've never heard of this plant. I should start paying more attention to what's growing around here in WA. We are in zone 7. Love its texture. It looks good in masses.
Sue Langley said…
Very interesting plant, ...maybe I'll try this,...sowing any seeds from my small rosy buckwheat. I love it so far. Thanks for the info!