There are over a thousand species of buckwheat worldwide. The buckwheat family contains interesting and pretty wildflowers, as well as food sources, such as cultivated buckwheat (pancakes, anyone?) and rhubarb. Where we live (California) there are over a hundred buckwheat species – a large plant family.
One buckwheat, native to the mountains of the western states, is sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum), also commonly called sulfur flower or sulfur eriogonum. This is a species that displays much variation and as a consequence there are over 41 varieties or subspecies of sulfur buckwheat in California alone. Sulfur buckwheat is a very common plant in dry, rocky places.
The tiny tubular flowers of sulfur buckwheat are sulfur yellow in color and occur in compact clusters which form umbels (flower cluster stalks arise from a single point, like the stays of an umbrella). As the flowers age they turn a reddish. The entire spatula shaped leaves are entire and gray green with a long petiole. The leaves occur in a basal rosette and in a whorl at each branching point on the stem. A whorl of leaves also occurs below the flower umbel. Arising from a taproot, the sulfur buckwheat leaves and stem are covered with tiny hairs, which might help prevent desiccation in arid areas. By the end of summer the dried remains of sulfur buckwheat are brown and often can still be seen into the winter.
I am not aware of any medicinal or culinary value for sulfur buckwheat. However, sulfur buckwheat is cultivated and the seeds are mixed with grasses and used in creating areas of diverse native vegetation communities. Sage grouse eat the seeds and pollinators readily visit the flowers.
More information about the buckwheat family is in an earlier post, “Nude Buckwheat“.
These plants were growing along the Williamson River in Oregon near Collier State Park.