While visiting the John Muir National Historic Site (Martinez CA) I was captivated by specimens of Santa Cruz Island buckwheat (Eriogonum arborescens). This shrub has an interesting form and was unlike most of the buckwheat species common in Northeastern California where Leonard and I live.
Santa Cruz Island buckwheat is a rare species in the wild, but is often grown as an ornamental. A woody, perennial shrub endemic to the Northern Channel Islands (except San Miguel Island), it has occasionally established itself elsewhere. Its habitat is dry slopes, chaparral and coastal sage scrub.
Growing to a height of 5 feet, Santa Cruz Island buckwheat is spreading, loosely open and bushy. The maroon-brown stems are sheddy. The evergreen leaves occur as terminal tufts on the ends of branches. The leaves are narrow, fuzzy (particularly on the lower side of the blade) with rolled-under edges. Originally blue-green, the leaves mature to a blue-grey color.
Santa Cruz Island buckwheat inflorescences are terminal cymes above the leaf tufts. The tiny pink flowers are densely clustered. As the flowers mature they fade to cream and turn rusty red as the seeds begin to set. There are 9 protruding stamens and a single-celled ovary.
Butterflies and native bees feed on Santa Cruz Island buckwheat while birds flock to the seeds. In addition to being an ornamental plant, the inflorescences are often dried and used as decorative everlastings.
The species designation, arborescens, is Latin for “woody” or “tree-like”.
Now I would like to go to the Channel Islands and see this beautiful shrub in its native environment.