Poncha Pass Sulphur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) beginning to flower in May.Poncha Pass Sulphur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) beginning to flower in May.

The Wonderful Sulfur Buckwheats

By David Salman, High Country Gardens Founder and Chief Horticulturist

The Eriogonum (pronounced eri-o-gonum) are a wonderfully beautiful and beneficial group of plants. Commonly known as the Sulfur Buckwheats, I have come to really rely on them to provide my gardens. Their long-lasting color and upright structure are a beautiful addition to garden designs, and they provide nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects.

My initial encounters with the genus many years ago has fostered an ever-growing appreciation for this large native genus. This plant expresses their greatest variety of forms in the western US, with Utah representing the epicenter of Eriogonum diversity. As a hobbyist rock gardener, I’m thrilled to acquire an ever-growing collection of these miniature shrubs.

Poncha Pass Buckwheat paired with Pineleaf Penstemon, Scutellaria, Hymenoxys, and more in David Salman's xeric garden.Poncha Pass Buckwheat paired with Pineleaf Penstemon, Scutellaria, Hymenoxys, and more in David Salman's xeric garden.
Poncha Pass Buckwheat paired with Pineleaf Penstemon, Scutellaria, Hymenoxys, and more in David Salman's xeric garden.
Kannah Creek Buckwheat paired with Penstemon and Nepeta in a customer's garden.Kannah Creek Buckwheat paired with Penstemon and Nepeta in a customer's garden.
Kannah Creek Buckwheat paired with Penstemon and Nepeta in a customer's garden.

Companion Planting With Buckwheats

As ornamental perennials/subshrubs (small woody plants), they are dependable garden plants in terms of cold hardiness, ease of cultivation and reliable blooming with flowers that turn into attractive seed heads. The flowers and seed heads will often color the plants for a long season from early summer into fall.

Most are evergreen or semi-evergreen shrubs that have attractive foliage that is usually fuzzy, spoon-shaped, often gray or gray-green foliage. They are long-lived, getting more beautiful with each passing year. They are also easy-to-grow happiest when rooted into “lean” (infertile), well-drained soil in sunny, hot conditions.

As a xeric gardener and perennial enthusiast, I feel the Sulfur Buckwheats are the perfect companion for other favorite plants like Lavender (Lavandula), Penstemon (or Beardtongues), cacti and succulents like AgaveYucca, and Hesperaloe, and even South African beauties like Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia).

The larger growing varieties are wonderful companions for miniature and dwarf conifers (small growing pines, spruces, fir), and add wonderful splashes of color to conifer plantings. Yes, they are incredibly versatile.

Arrowleaf Buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) in a xeric garden.Arrowleaf Buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) in a xeric garden.
Arrowleaf Buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) in a xeric garden.

Buckwheats Are Pollinator Paradise

I feel in general that the Buckwheats are woefully underutilized, both ornamentally and as important plants for providing habitat in the garden. Eriogonum is a fantastic genus of wildflowers when it comes to attracting and feeding bees and butterflies and many species of beneficial insects. Everyone should be planting to provide habitat for pollinators (butterflies, honey bees, bumblebees, and other native bees, and hummingbirds) as well as other insects and birds. 

Eriogonum are an essential bee plant as they are an outstanding nectar and pollen source for bees. Eriogonum is also an important genus for attracting beneficial insects to protect the garden from aphids and other injurious insects. Beneficial insects prey on injurious insects like aphids, spider mites, and other garden pests, and contribute to a healthier garden - naturally. 

I'm not an ornithologist, but I suspect their grain-like seeds are also eaten by many bird species.    

Kannah Creek Buckwheat paired with Yucca, Echinocereus, Artemisia, Oenothera in a Colorado GardenKannah Creek Buckwheat paired with Yucca, Echinocereus, Artemisia, Oenothera in a Colorado Garden
Kannah Creek Buckwheat paired with Yucca, Echinocereus, Artemisia, and Oenothera in a Colorado Garden.

Tips For Growing Buckwheat

  • The genus is very easy to grow as long as the plants are matched with a low fertility ("lean"), well drained soil.
  • Rocky and sandy soils that are challenging for establishing new plants are perfect for the Buckwheats.
  • Many perennial Buckwheats take at least two growing seasons to reach mature size. When happy, most are long lived.
  • They generally don't need much supplemental irrigation once established even in arid climates.
  • Mulching is best done with crushed gravel, pine needles, crushed nut shells and other very course textured materials; no compost, shredded leaves or other moisture retentive mulches.
  • I fertilize lightly once in the fall scratching in a dry organic type that contains alfalfa meal, kelp meal, rock phosphate and trace minerals. 
Poncha Pass Sulphur Buckwheat just beginning to flower in MayPoncha Pass Sulphur Buckwheat just beginning to flower in May
Poncha Pass Sulphur Buckwheat just beginning to flower in May

Shop Buckwheat Plants From High Country Gardens


  1. Little Rascal Sulphur Buckwheat, Eriogonum allenii 'Little Rascal'

    Huge, flat-topped flower clusters create a dome of bright yellow color over the large attractive gray-green leaves of 'Little Rascal' Buckwheat (Eriogonum allenii). Blooming througho...

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    Little Rascal Sulphur Buckwheat Little Rascal Sulphur Buckwheat Eriogonum allenii Little Rascal
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Huge, flat-topped flower clusters create a dome of bright yellow color over the large attractive gray-green leaves of 'Little Rascal' Buckwheat (Eriogonum allenii). Blooming throughout the summer and into fall, it is highly attractive to butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. This low-care buckwheat is more moisture tolerant than most and can be grown across much of the US when planted in full sun and well drained soils.
  2. Yellow Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum Kanah Creek, Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum, Kannah Creek Sulphur Buckwheat

    Kannah Creek Buckwheat hails from western Colorado. With a showy display of yellow flowers in late spring, the flowers age to shades of orange and rust by late summer, providing mont...

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    Kannah Creek Sulphur Buckwheat Kannah Creek Sulphur Buckwheat Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum Kannah Creek
    Sale Price I Save 10%
    $11.99 Sale $10.79
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Kannah Creek Buckwheat hails from western Colorado. With a showy display of yellow flowers in late spring, the flowers age to shades of orange and rust by late summer, providing months of low care color. A 2007 Plant Select winner. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).

by David Salman

Eriogonum umbellatum.

The Eriogonum (pronounced eri-ög- ōnum) are a wonderfully beautiful and useful group of plants. Commonly known as the Sulfur Buckwheats, I have come to really rely on them to provide my gardens with long-lasting color, structure and provide nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies and beneficial insects. My initial encounters with the genus many years ago has fostered an ever-growing appreciation for this large native genus that expresses their greatest variety of forms in the western US, with Utah representing the epicenter of Eriogonum diversity.

Lavandula angustifolia Vera Eriogonum umbellatum Proliferum
Vera English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia Vera) with Prolific Sulpher Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum Proliferum)

As a hobbyist rock gardener, I’m thrilled to acquire an ever-growing collection of these miniature shrubs.

Penstemon w. Eriogonum umbellatum 'Shasta Sulfur'
Penstemon with Eriogonum umbellatum 'Shasta Sulfur,'

As a xeric gardener and perennial enthusiast, the Sulfur Buckwheats are the perfect companion for other favorite plants like Lavender (Lavandula), beardtongues (Penstemon), cacti, succulents (like Agave, Yucca and Hesperaloe) and even South African beauties like Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia). The larger growing varieties are wonderful companions for miniature and dwarf conifers (small growing pines, spruces, fir) that add a wonderful splashes of color to conifer plantings. Yes, they are incredibly versatile.

Most are evergreen or semi-evergreen shrubs that have attractive foliage that is usually fuzzy, spoon-shaped, often gray or gray-green foliage. They are long-lived, getting more beautiful with each passing year. They are also easy-to-grow happiest when rooted into “lean” (infertile), well-drained soil in sunny, hot conditions.

Eriogonum umbellatum Kanah Creek Eriogonum umbellatum 'Kanah Creek.'

Some of my recommended species and selections include E. umbellatum v. aureum ‘Kanah Creek’ a large, extremely floriferous yellow flowered variety originally found growing in western Colorado. Its flowers also age from yellow to shades of rusty-orange and orange-red. I’m also excitedly working on some new varieties for release in 2011. Eriogonum corymbosum ‘Yellow’ is a stupendous, ever-blooming yellow flowered variant of a species with normally cream-colored flowers. Native a limited area in central Utah, this desert native adapts easily to irrigated gardens in a variety of soil types.

So get some of these beauties into your gardens and stay tuned as there is much yet to come from this fabulous genus.

  1. White Anthemis tinctoria Susanna Mitchell, Anthemis tinctoria Susanna Mitchell, Susanna Mitchell Marguerite Daisy

    24-30" tall x 24" wide. Susanna Mitchell blooms most of the summer with large, creamy white daisies. A vigorous and easy-to-grow, It's attractive, fine textured foliage shows off the...

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    Susanna Mitchell Marguerite Daisy (Anthemis) Susanna Mitchell Marguerite Daisy Anthemis tinctoria Susanna Mitchell
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    24-30" tall x 24" wide. Susanna Mitchell blooms most of the summer with large, creamy white daisies. A vigorous and easy-to-grow, It's attractive, fine textured foliage shows off the flowers to great advantage. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
  2. Blue Echinops banaticus Blue Glow, Echinops banaticus Blue Glow, Blue Glow Globe Thistle

    Blue Glow is an Old World wildflower that blooms in mid-summer. The deep blue globe-like flowers are held high above the attactive thistle-like foliage. One of the very best flowers ...

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    Blue Glow Echinops Blue Glow Globe Thistle Echinops bannaticus Blue Glow
    Sale Price I Save 15%
    $11.99 Sale $10.19
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Blue Glow is an Old World wildflower that blooms in mid-summer. The deep blue globe-like flowers are held high above the attactive thistle-like foliage. One of the very best flowers for attracting bees and butterflies to your garden. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
  3. Origanum Rotkugel close up with bee Photo courtesy of Emmis Oure

    Rotkugel is one of the very best ornamental oreganos that blooms in mid-to late summer with a profusion of flower heads filled with small bright pink flowers. A fantastic perennial...

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    Rotkugel Ornamental Oregano Rotkugel Ornamental Oregano Origanum Rotkugel
    Sale Price I Save 15%
    $11.99 Sale $10.19
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Rotkugel is one of the very best ornamental oreganos that blooms in mid-to late summer with a profusion of flower heads filled with small bright pink flowers. A fantastic perennial for feeding bees and butterflies .
  4. Yellow Helianthus maximiliana Santa Fe, Helianthus maximiliana Santa Fe, Maximilian's Sunflower

    Exclusive. Santa Fe is a selected form of Maximilian's Sunflower chosen for its huge, bright yellow daisies that tightly pack the 6 foot tall flowering spike. A tough perennial for d...

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    Santa Fe Maximilian's Sunflower (Helianthus) Santa Fe Maximilian's Sunflower Helianthus maximiliana Santa Fe
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Exclusive. Santa Fe is a selected form of Maximilian's Sunflower chosen for its huge, bright yellow daisies that tightly pack the 6 foot tall flowering spike. A tough perennial for difficult growing conditions, it blooms in mid-September. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric). A High Country Gardens introduction.
  5. Limiam White Nancy, Dead Nettle flower close up

    White Nancy is an outstanding Old World groundcover for shade and semi-shade. Blooming much of the summer with bright white flower helod over green and white variegated foliage, this...

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    White Nancy Lamium White Nancy Deadnettle Lamium maculatum White Nancy
    As low as $7.99 Sale $6.39
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    White Nancy is an outstanding Old World groundcover for shade and semi-shade. Blooming much of the summer with bright white flower helod over green and white variegated foliage, this long lived groundcover is the best.
  6. Purple Eupatorium dubium Baby Joe, Eupatorium dubium Baby Joe, Joe Pye Weed

    36-48" tall x 24-36" wide. ‘Baby Joe’ is a compact selection of the large growing Joe Pye weed. In late summer the plant blooms with flat topped heads of small, mauve-purple flow...

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    Baby Joe Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium) Baby Joe Joe Pye Weed Eupatorium dubium Baby Joe
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $12.99 Sale $10.39
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    36-48" tall x 24-36" wide. ‘Baby Joe’ is a compact selection of the large growing Joe Pye weed. In late summer the plant blooms with flat topped heads of small, mauve-purple flowers. The flowers are extremely attractive to butterflies and bees.
  7. Variegated Yellow Archangel, Yellow Lamiastrum galeobdonblon Herman's Pride, Lamiastrum galeobdonblon Herman's Pride

    Herman's Pride Variegated Yellow Archangel is one of our best Old World groundcovers for shade and semi-shade. Lamiastrum galeobdoblon Herman's Pride features short spikes of bright ...

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    Herman's Pride Archangel (Lamiastrum) Herman's Pride Yellow Archangel Lamiastrum galeobdolon Herman's Pride
    As low as $7.99 Sale $6.79
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Herman's Pride Variegated Yellow Archangel is one of our best Old World groundcovers for shade and semi-shade. Lamiastrum galeobdoblon Herman's Pride features short spikes of bright yellow flower are held over variegated silver and green foliage, Blooms in late spring.
  8. Pink Diascia integerrima Coral Canyon, Diascia integerrima Coral Canyon, Coral Canyon Twinspur

    Coral Canyon is one of the best new perennial introductions of the past 25 years. Native to South Africa, it blooms all summer with salmon-pink flowers held over finely textured st...

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    Coral Canyon Twinspur (Diascia) Coral Canyon Twinspur Diascia integerrima Coral Canyon
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $9.99 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Coral Canyon is one of the best new perennial introductions of the past 25 years. Native to South Africa, it blooms all summer with salmon-pink flowers held over finely textured stems with bright green foliage. A 2000 Plant Select winner.

Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.

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