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What Is California Buckwheat?

California buckwheat is often used as a food plant for honey bees.
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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 15 July 2014
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California buckwheat, scientifically named Eriogonum fasciculatum, is a species of woody flowering perennials that naturally dwell in warm tropical places such as the California region of the United States and northwestern Mexico. The entire genus of Eriogonum is collectively recognized as wild buckwheat, but the species of E. fasciculatum is more specifically categorized as a wildflower. This particular species is commonly grown as an ornamental garden plant because of its flowers that come in various colors. The foliage of this wildflower has small, egg-shaped leaves that grow in clusters on thin woody stems. Native California buckwheat can reach a maximum height of 6.5 feet (about 2 m) and a width of roughly 10 feet (3 m).

This plant has white spherical clumps of flowers that emerge during late spring and turn light pink in the summer. Come fall, these pink blossoms will turn a rusty color that usually lasts until winter. Seeds that are produced by the plant’s matured flowers serve as food for certain species of small birds, butterflies, and honey bees.

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As a food plant for honey bees, larva moths, and butterflies, California buckwheat serves important ecological functions for dry woodlands and deserts that only support a few species of nectar-producing plants. The co-dependence of California buckwheat and these insects is so crucial that the disappearance of one can lead to the extinction of the other. Clusters of this perennial have been seen covering vast land areas in the Mojave desert and across the entire state of California.

This wildflower’s blossoms make it a popular accent plant for gardens, and aside from its flowers that provide food for insects, its thick foliage also serves as a home for butterflies and moths. Its naturally spherical mass of flowers can be utilized as an element for elaborate flower arrangements. Herbal medicine has also recognized the healing property of California buckwheat leaves in treating headaches and stomach pain.

Caring for this drought-tolerant wildflower is considered relatively easy. Sandy well-drained soil is the plant’s most preferred dwelling ground. Watering these shrubs every other day and exposing them to plenty of sun is enough to support their nutrient needs. A gardener usually opts to plant them in wide-set pots or directly on the ground.

Some closely associated wild buckwheat species include clay buckwheat, bailey’s buckwheat, and parry’s buckwheat. Clay buckwheat, as the name implies, is a clay-tolerant specie that also has pink clusters of flowers and hard thin stalks. Its oval-shaped leaves make it distinctive from the California buckwheat. Baily’s buckwheat has leaves that are rounder than California buckwheat, though it’s overall appearance is quite similar. Parry’s buckwheat, on the other hand, exhibits dark-colored foliage with velvety undersides and white globular clusters of small flowers.

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