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. Yellow Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum Kanah Creek, Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum, Kannah Creek Sulphur Buckwheat

    Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum ‚Kannah Creek‚ (Buckwheat) hails from western Colorado. With a showy display of yellow flowers in late spring, the flowers age to shades of...

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    Kannah Creek Sulphur Buckwheat Kannah Creek Sulphur Buckwheat Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum 'Kannah Creek'
    As low as $13.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum '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).
  2. Arrowleaf Buckwheat, Eriogonum compositum, clusters of creamy white flowers

    Arrowleaf Buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) is a lovely Sulphur Buckwheat with large, showy clusters of creamy white or light yellow flowers and low-growing rosette of large heart-sha...

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    Arrowleaf Buckwheat Arrowleaf Buckwheat Eriogonum compositum
    $13.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Arrowleaf Buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) is a lovely Sulphur Buckwheat with large, showy clusters of creamy white or light yellow flowers and low-growing rosette of large heart-shaped leaves. Beautiful late spring blooms add playful texture to the garden. Native to the dry areas of the Pacific Northwest, this buckwheat is an essential habitat plant for butterflies, beneficial insects, and wildlife.

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. Phemeranthus calycinum (Talinum) Judith's Favorite Close-up. Image courtesy of Emmis Oure

    A carefree little succulent native plant, Phemeranthus calycinum ‚Judith‚s Favorite‚ (Fame Flower) has quarter-sized rose-violet flowers that open in the afternoon ...

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    Judith's Favorite Fame Flower (Phemeranthus) Judith's Favorite Fame Flower Phemeranthus calycinum Judith's Favorite
    $9.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    A carefree little succulent native plant, Phemeranthus calycinum 'Judith's Favorite' (Fame Flower) has quarter-sized rose-violet flowers that open in the afternoon heat. A willing re-seeder, these little plants gently colonize their garden site and bloom all summer. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
  2. Red Edged Pig's Ear, Cotyledon orbiculata whole plant

    Red Edged Pig‚s Ear (Cotyledon orbiculata) is a showy, cold hardy succulent with rounded silver, red-edged leaves. The plant blooms in mid-summer with showy, nodding dusky-pink...

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    Red Edged Pig's Ear (Cotyledon) Red Edged Pig's Ear Cotyledon orbiculata (High Elevation Form)
    $11.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Red Edged Pig's Ear (Cotyledon orbiculata) is a showy, cold hardy succulent with rounded silver, red-edged leaves. The plant blooms in mid-summer with showy, nodding dusky-pink flowers held on sturdy upright stems.
  3. Yellow Helianthus maximiliana Lemon Yellow, Helianthus maximiliana Lemon Yellow, Lemon Max Maximilian's Sunflower

    4-5 feet tall x 4-5 feet wide. Lemon Max is a sensational bloomer with an explosion of huge, clear yellow August daisies. A big strapping plant, give Lemon Max plenty of room to grow...

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    Lemon Max Maximilian's Sunflower (Helianthus) Undaunted® Lemon Max Perennial Sunflower Helianthus maximiliana Lemon Max
    $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    4-5 feet tall x 4-5 feet wide. Lemon Max is a sensational bloomer with an explosion of huge, clear yellow August daisies. A big strapping plant, give Lemon Max plenty of room to grow. Well-suited to any type of soil, including clay. Well suited to habitat gardens--birds will relish the seeds and native bees are fond of the nectar-rich sunflowers. Discovered by Lauren Ogden in her Ft. Collins garden.
  4. Blue Linum perenne Appar, Appar Blue Flax close up

    Appar Blue Flax (Linum perenne Appar) is a dwarf form of Blue Flax that covers itself with bright blue flowers held over stout wiry stems and blooms for several months beginning in l...

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    Appar Blue Flax (Linum) Appar Blue Flax Linum perenne Appar
    $9.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Appar Blue Flax (Linum perenne Appar) is a dwarf form of Blue Flax that covers itself with bright blue flowers held over stout wiry stems and blooms for several months beginning in late spring. Appar Blue Flax loves poor soils and drier conditions in the garden. Drought resistant/drought tolerant perennial plant (xeric). 18" x 18" wide.
  5. Blue Hyssopus officinalis ssp. aristadus, Hyssopus officinalis ssp. aristadus, Hyssop

    Blue Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis ssp. aristadus) is one of the very best Old World plants for attracting and feeding bees and bumble bees. A medicinal herb, its aromatic foliage, an...

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    Blue Hyssop (Hyssopus) Blue Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis ssp. aristadus
    As low as $12.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Blue Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis ssp. aristadus) is one of the very best Old World plants for attracting and feeding bees and bumble bees. A medicinal herb, its aromatic foliage, and bright blue flowers are a highlight of the mid-summer garden. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
  6. Origanum libanoticum Close Up

    Origanum libanoticum (Hopflower Oregano) is an Old World herb that blooms in mid-summer on tall stems with cascading sprays of pink bracts and flowers. Planted on the edge of a raise...

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    Cascading Hopflower Oregano Cascading Hopflower Oregano Origanum libanoticum
    $9.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Origanum libanoticum (Hopflower Oregano) is an Old World herb that blooms in mid-summer on tall stems with cascading sprays of pink bracts and flowers. Planted on the edge of a raised bed shows off the lantern-like flowers to best advantage. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
  7. Sempervivum arachnoideum, Cobweb Hen and Chicks

    Sempervivum arachnoideum (Cobweb Hen and Chick) is a small-growing selection of hen and chicks that is especially lovely with its tight rosettes of cobwebbed foliage; makes an outsta...

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    Cobweb Hens and Chicks Cobweb Hens and Chicks Sempervivum arachnoideum Cobweb
    $12.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Sempervivum arachnoideum (Cobweb Hen and Chick) is a small-growing selection of hen and chicks that is especially lovely with its tight rosettes of cobwebbed foliage; makes an outstanding rock garden plant, Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
  8. Hoary Vervain, Verbena stricta

    Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta) is a beautiful native wildflower, with blue-violet flowers blooming from the bottom up on tall flower spikes in mid-summer that attract bees and butte...

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    Hoary Vervain Hoary Vervain Verbena stricta
    $12.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta) is a beautiful native wildflower, with blue-violet flowers blooming from the bottom up on tall flower spikes in mid-summer that attract bees and butterflies. Ovate leaves are covered with whitish hairs, giving the foliage a silvery color and soft texture. Will naturalize and spread easily by reseeding. The seeds are a favorite food for seed-eating songbirds.

Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.

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