Many times I find nature overwhelming in its complexity and beauty. It is impossible to know everything about everything. Over time I have learned that it is enough to get to know some things about a few things in a fairly limited area. Which brings me to buckwheat. I first got interested in buckwheat when I did illustrations for the first edition of Charlie Kane’s “Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest”, including paintings of flat-top buckwheat (p. 98-100). Now, eight years later, I decided to take a closer look at the buckwheat flowers.
With my new camera and lens I can zoom in and see flowers at a much closer range than before, and discover things I have not yet noticed.
The buckwheat family is called Polygonaceae, from the Greek word polygon = knee, referring to the fact that many in this genus have thickened joints on their stems.
The genus is eriogonum, from two Greek words: erion=hairy or woolly, and gonu=joint, since some species in this genus have hairy joints.
How many Eriogonum species are there?
240 – in the world (Wikipedia)
200 – in the United States ( Kane)
100 – in Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico (Ricketts)
50 – in Arizona (Epple)
5 – in the Santa Catalina mountains above 4000′ (Verrier and Tedford)
Of these five, let me show you two, one visible and the other “invisible”.
The visible one is Flat-topped buckwheat or eriogonum fasciculatum. The botanical name refers to the fact that the leaves are in fascicles, or bundles where they attach to the stem.
Here we see a road cut in the Catalina Mountains with eriogonum fasciculatum in fairly large clumps all along the slope.
These large masses look almost black in the late fall and winter. Then, in the early spring, they turn a beautiful green and soon are topped with a bouquet of pale pink flowers. After a while, as the flowers fade, the top turns a pleasant rust color.
Here we see a group of plants, with just a few flowers left.
Here is a single plant showing some fresh flowers, and some that have turned brown.
Here is a plant with mostly new flowers.
A single branch with a cluster on the top consisting of many flowers packed tightly together.
Here is the cluster close up. Note that some of the flowers have aged and turned reddish brown.
This is a single flat-topped buckwheat flower.
The second species is one of the “invisible” buckwheats, – Sorrel eriogonum, eriogonum polycladon (meaning having many branches).
The plants are about two feet tall. You can see the way they branch. The pinkish-white parts at the end of the stems are the flowers. There are fields full of these plants between 4000′ and 5000′. Often I have walked by them and wondered if they were in bloom or not, since the flowers are so small. The stems are grey. The flower buds are partly red and the flowers mostly white. From a distance these plants give a beautiful pink glow to the landscape.
This is a single flower, very small, nearly invisible yet quite beautiful.