Like last month’s hero, white yarrow, the bloom of the month for July is not a showstopper or a home garden favorite. More than likely you won’t show up to a dinner party with a bundle of these on your arm. July’s bloom only has 3 distinct color stages each one subtly beautiful, is a food and forage source for literally dozens of chaparral species and is simply the ecological cornerstone for hundreds of square miles of scrubland from San Luis Obispo to Baja.
Eriogonum fasciculatum, California Buckwheat is a small shrub ranging from 2-4 feet high and can get twice as wide. As branches hit the ground, they take root and continue to spread, making buckwheat an ideal shrub for erosion control. Foliage is a skinny, dark green, needle-like leaf which bears a resemblance to an earlier Everyday Flora star, chamise. They grow in bunches up long branches, “fasciculatum” actually translates to “bundles”.
Flowers heads are borne on umbels and upon close inspection are actually bunches of tiny pink/cream/white flowers, starting to bloom in May.
By July the fields of creamy white puffballs start to take on gold, rust, burnt umber and chocolate hues, all mixed and creating the quintessential late summer California scene. The dark brown heads often persist late into the winter until rain and winds finally disperse them.
I would be hard pressed to name a local shrub the provides subsistence for so many different types of wildlife. Just to name a few…
The Electra buckmoth larvae love to snack on it…
Equally popular with the Mormon metalmark:
The orange-throated whiptail loves to hide and forage in the dense duff under buckwheat:
The very rare California gnatcatcher forages and nests in the dense branches:
And finally in the San Gabriel range you might find the equally rare Desert bighorn sheep:
Not to mention the plethora of bees, wasps, butterflies and other wildlife that make regular use of the branches leaves and blooms.
While this isn’t the species of buckwheat you would use to make flour, Chumash have been recorded as brewing the flowers for rheumatism, menstrual issues and stomach discomfort.
Buckwheat is a must for any wildlife or habitat garden and if California buckwheat doesn’t float your proverbial boat there are at least a dozen species of varying growth habits, flower color and size to fit any situation. Large and small, crawling or upright, white, pink, red, yellow, whatever you need, buckwheat’s got it: