Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Happy New Year of Bountiful Buckwheats


Eriogonum latifolium in the wild!

Eriogonum latifolium growing on the coast north of Santa Cruz (the pale pompoms in the middle)

In pursuit of low growing ground covers for my sunny slopes, I've decided to branch out into the wonderful and deer-resistent world of beautiful buckwheats.

Rosy buckwheat, Eriogonum rubicunda - this one is NOT deer resistant, unfortunately

Why have I not yet done so? Buckwheats are wonderful plants for the native garden and there are - I counted on CalFlora - over 250 species!

But I have this golden rule: never to plant anything that will hybridize with a local native - or escape into the wild. And I have been told that buckwheats hybridize. And I've been raising the local Eriogonum nudum, naked buckwheat - so, no other buckwheats for me.

But my experience of naked buckwheat in the garden is this: it looks gorgeous when young - sculptural long tubular stems with clouds of little pompoms waving at the tops of them, adored - as are all buckwheats - by native pollinators.

Eriogonum nudum in June (maybe after a watering)

E. nudum has a nice basal rosette of leaves and sculptural stems in early summer.
But then — comes late summer and fall and the basal leaves and stalks begin to dry to a really ugly crisp.

Flowers and flower stalks are still nice but lower leaves drying out - by late fall  the long stems are breaking off leaving just the withered stumps. Which do regrow, but don't look so good the next year.

So I'm not going to grow it on sunny areas this year - I'll try it in a shadier place on the north slope.

And I'll discontinue my breeding program or - I will continue maybe but with a different goal: to see if I do in fact see any hybrid-looking plants.

There is a lack of hard evidence about hybridization and anecdotal evidence is mixed - for pretty much all the natives, as far as I can tell. I prefer not to take the risk of contaminating local natives where I live.

In this case, I'm not worried about contamination. Naked buckwheat doesn't grow very near our property - I collected the seeds from a sandy semi-shady slope about a mile away, and three hundred feet lower than us or so - on a sandy slope above a creek. I haven't seen it anywhere else in my travels around our area.

When I asked a botanist at Central Coast Wilds how they deal with hybridization when breeding native plants she said - we just try to put things at opposite ends of the nursery (which is quite long).   So I don't think I'll be contaminating any local wild buckwheats.

Hence my new year's resolution: grow more buckwheats! In particular these ones —

Coast buckwheat, Eriogonum latifolium in the wild (also shown in the opening pictures)

Coast buckwheat, Eriogonum latifolium, in a garden - after it starts to dry out. Still attractive, though maybe not against that mulch.
Eriogonum giganteum, Saint Catherine's lace, in my garden, July 2009

Saint Catherine's lace again (this image from web somewhere, downloaded a long time back)
I loved E. giganteum - it does get large! But some seedlings did sprout nearby. So, I'm on the fence about growing it again. Do I want it to naturalize here? I don't think so - but then, it's a great pollinator plant. Hm…

And last, and smallest, but not least -

Eriogonum umbellatum, sulphur buckwheat. Low, bright, cheerful. Not long lived.

3 comments:

Terra said...

Intriguing info and photos of buckwheat.

Country Mouse said...

Thanks, Terra - Hope you are encouraged to try more buckwheats in sunny dry spots of your California garden!

ryan said...

I planted buckwheats a bit more this year than in years past. Hopefully they'll do well, I really like them. I've had them reseed, but mostly just in DG or gravel paths near the plants. I have to say that seeing some E. giganteum reseed and grow to maturity would be pretty cool if it was in a suitable place.