Earlier this spring, in April, we attended the Going Native Garden Tour along the Peninsula, and after visiting some of the native Bay Area gardens on the tour, in the late afternoon, we met up with Town Mouse and Country Mouse, and Christine of Idora Design. Christine had brought a few seedlings of Eriogonum grande var. rubescens to share with us that she had started from seed, which are now blooming, and we’re so grateful she brought them. Thank you Christine!
Eriogonum grande var. rubescens, is also commonly known as Red or Rosy Buckwheat, or San Miguel Island Buckwheat. As its common name implies, it is natively found on San Miguel, as well as Santa Cruz Island, off the coast of California. It is listed by the California Native Plant Society as a rare California native plant species.
The genus name Eriogonum is derived from the Greek Erio, meaning “wool”, and gono meaning “knee”. This apparently refers to the woolly leaves and swollen nodes observed in most Eriogonum species.
Rosy Buckwheat can reach 2 feet in height, with a 3-4 foot spread. At the coast this plant requires full sun, but needs partial shade inland. Each plant produces a profusion of blooms between late June to October, and after its first season is reportedly very drought tolerant, requiring water only once or twice per month once established. Although this plant tolerates clay soils, over-watering in summer can shorten the life of this already short-lived plant. Eriogonum grande var. rubescens typically only survives 3-5 years. Although this is a short-lived species, once established, if the ground in the garden isn’t mulched too heavily, this species should self sow, and naturally replace itself.
We didn’t have any species of buckwheat growing natively on the property, and we’d never tried growing any here before Christine gifted us these plants. However, we were very interested to try them as the California buckwheats come into their own in late summer when the majority of our other native blooms are spent for the season. As we plan to add honeybees to the farm next spring, we’re becoming ever more aware of ensuring we have nectar sources for the bees available during the late summer season.
Despite our miserably cold, damp weather in recent weeks, this buckwheat couldn’t be more happy. There is little else blooming here at the moment. Just a few native Asters, along with the squash and rosemary blossoms in the vegetable garden. At the moment the buckwheats are just about the only other plants in bloom, for which the bees, and butterflies seem most grateful, especially this little Gray Hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus) that we haven’t noticed here before.
We’re now looking at seeding significant quantities of buckwheat, both this species, and a species native to this area, Eriogonum latifolium (Coast Buckwheat) around the periphery of our orchard and gardens in late fall when the rains return. As deer apparently relish California buckwheats, planting will be strictly within the confines of our deer fence though. Once the annual spring blooms are spent, reseeded, and cut down, the buckwheats should be well on their way toward blooming, providing our native pollinators, and our honeybees, with an extra food resource before the winter.
Apparently the honey produced from California buckwheats is an exceptionally rich, deep, golden color, that is both distinctively fragrant and flavorful. We’ll have to wait until we have our bees, and a lot more buckwheat blooming, to try buckwheat honey for ourselves though.
Various California buckwheats have been used by Native peoples for a variety of purposes, including a decoction of roots commonly used by the Costanoan Indians as a remedy for colds, and coughs.
If you live in California and are interested in planting this species, Eriogonum grande var. rubescens can be sourced through numerous native plant nurseries, both as plants or seed, throughout California.
 Daniel E. Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotanical Database