Last Stand of Summer in the CA Wildlife Garden

Tailed Copper Butterfly Enjoying Nectar of California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
Photo © LasPilitas Nursery, used with permission

Lizard looks up at me from his perch underneath the Buckwheat.  He is waiting for a tasty insect to come along. He is curious about this lady with her camera poking into the Buckwheat. The lizards have been very bold this year. Instead of running from me like usual, they are staying and regarding me, only moving at the very last moment.

It is Mid-Summer now and the wildflowers that had covered the Southern California Chaparral have gone to seed.  The landscape is now largely gray-brown scrub, except for one native beauty: California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum).  Buckwheat continues to delight the native wildlife gardener, lending summer blooms that start out white in May and turn to bronze as September draws near.

“Viewing wild hillsides covered with the coppery seadheads of CA Buckwheat is a uniquely Western experience and lends a touch of fall color to our state.”  ~Carol Bornstein

California Buckwheat in Mid Summer (Eriogonum fasciculatum) Photo © LasPilitas Nursery. Used with permission

Besides its beauty, Buckwheat is of great value to wildlife in the summertime.  It provides pollen & nectar for bees, food for butterflies, seeds for small birds, and cover for small creatures like the lizards. Buckwheat also attracts plenty of beneficial insects and insect predators.  Having flowers in August and September is essential for chaparral wildlife: when other blooms have gone, bees & butterflies are still seen frequenting the reliable Buckwheat.

Ammophilina Thread Waisted Wasp prey on moth and butterfly larvae. Feeding on Eriogonum umbellatum nectar. Photo © LasPilitas Nursery. Used with permission

Buckwheat is a must have in the So Cal native garden in summer.  Buckwheat will grow alongside many different perennial native plants: sage, yellow yarrow, wooly blue curls, monkeyflowers, and Manzanita to name a few. It even gets along with non-natives that are drought-tolerant, such as succulents.

My favorite pairing is California Buckwheat with the soft orange of Monkeyflowers. Buckwheat is most spectacular when planted en masse where the distinctive seedheads can create a display.

California Buckwheat grows on rocky hillsides where its deep roots provide excellent erosion control.  It favors drier, well-drained sites and loves sunshine. The upright growth habit provides good cover for Lizards in the Chaparral.

And unlike some other flowering native plants, Buckwheat is evergreen, never leaving an empty space in the garden. Buckwheat is truly drought tolerant, growing in the chaparral with only the scarce So CA rainfall~ requiring no help from a garden hose~ yet blooming all through the Summer.

California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) Makes Nutritious Honey in TopangaCanyon Photo by Kathy Vilim

There are many different varieties of Buckwheat growing throughout the state of California. The California Buckwheat, which we have here in the Santa Monica Mountains, is by far the most widespread variety throughout the State of CA.  This large state boasts home to over 100 varieties.

A versatile plant, low growing varieties of Buckwheat work really well as rock garden plantings. They can also be used as a focal point in containers, or used to edge a pathway, or mixed in a garden bed. The California Buckwheat can be planted on hillsides and used to control erosion. There are other Buckwheat varieties that are best suited for the coastal areas.

Some of the best known varieties of Native Buckwheat are:

  •  California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) our Topanga Canyon variety, Southern California
  • -Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat (Eriogonum arborescens) Native to the Santa Cruz, Anacapa & Santa Rosa Islands, considered to be the most elegant variety, their size varies with location.  In windy, exposed sites, they tend to stay small like rock garden plants
  • Ashyleaf Buckweat (Eriogonum crinereum) Seaside variety, can be grown slightly inland to mix with other varieties to extend the flowering season. Low growing, pink flowers, native from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles County.
  • Saffron Buckwheat (Eriogonum crocatun) Eye-popping yellow flowers atop fuzzy white leaves. Rare in the wild. Only found in one area of the SM Mtns in Ventura County.
  • Saint Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum) Famous for its delicate lacy “inflorescences”, can be found in dry coastal scrub areas.
  • Red-Flowered Buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var. rubescens) Gorgeous mass of red flowers in coastal regions.
  • Coast Buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium) Found near the coast and in coastal scrub under 500ft elevation, similar to E. grande except for its color.
  • Sulfer Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum var. polyanthum) Stunning yellow flowers, can be found up to 10,000 ft.

What really distinguishes Buckwheats are the arrangements of the “inflorescences” which can be densely packed rounded heads, airy wind-like spikes, or intricately branched flattened sprays.  As the flowers fade, they turn dark yellow, deep red, or earthy hues of tan, russet, or chocolate. The seedheads “inflorescences” can be brought indoors for dried floral arrangements.

What native plant is your “last stand’ in your Native Wildlife Garden this Summer? We’d love to hear!

© 2012, Kathy Vilim. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. Susan says

    Growing lushly and beautifully in my prairie bed is our native Rudbeckia hirta, Black-eyed Susan. It has self-seeded in the big field nearby that is actually our septic field. I just love this flower. We have had an exceptionally dry and very hot summer so far here in SE Michigan and yet the Rudbeckia continues to grow and bloom.

  2. says

    As a Topanga neighbor, I enjoy the lizards every day along with the Buckwheat. I love the taste of Buckwheat in cereal and as a roasted grain.

    The lizards and I have long conversations and I compliment them on their beautiful tails and speedy reactions. They look at me sideways, as their eyes are position to have full peripheral sight.The babies are so tine they sometimes resemble insects. They are very wise and I think about humans’ lizard brains—the instinctive part (reptilian) part of our brain, that is so often in fight or fight mode because of the stress we feel in these challenging times.

    The lizards are so open to conversation that I wish humans would be more like them since we share their brain structure. They remind me to slow down, listen, and open my heart to Mother Nature and people.

  3. says

    I just love reading about your gardens in the hills. The buckwheat certainly is eyecatching. I checked and FL has two species of buckwheat which are native. One is endangered, but both are indicated in my county, so I’m going to have to pay some attention.

    I would put the goldenrods as my “last stand” plants, although once the asters get started they do give em a run for their money.
    Loret T. Setters recently posted..As one disappears another moves in

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