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.
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  2. Fall Red Eriogonum umbellatum Poncha Pass Red, Eriogonum umbellatum Poncha Pass Red, Poncha Pass Red Sulfur Buckwheat

    This incredible native wildflower, Eriogonum umbellatum 'Poncha Pass Red' (Poncha Pass Red Sulfur Buckwheat) is a very durable, long lived miniature shrub that blooms with bright yel...

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    Poncha Pass Red Sulphur Buckwheat Poncha Pass Red Sulphur Buckwheat Eriogonum umbellatum Poncha Pass Red
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    This incredible native wildflower, Eriogonum umbellatum 'Poncha Pass Red' (Poncha Pass Red Sulfur Buckwheat) is a very durable, long lived miniature shrub that blooms with bright yellow flower clusters that ripen to dark red seed heads by late summer. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric). 2014 Plant of the Year.
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  3. 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 20%
    $11.99 Sale $9.59
    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).
    Learn More

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. Monardella macrantha Marian Sampson, Photo Courtesy of Plant Select

    A dazzling selection of this California native wildflower species, 'Marian Sampson' (commonly known as Scarlet Monardella) has clusters of brilliant red, tubular flowers held over lo...

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    Marian Sampson Scarlet Monardella Scarlet Monardella, Hummingbird Coyote Mint Monardella macrantha Marian Sampson
    As low as $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    A dazzling selection of this California native wildflower species, 'Marian Sampson' (commonly known as Scarlet Monardella) has clusters of brilliant red, tubular flowers held over low mats of dark green, shiny leaves. Blooming in late spring it is certain to attract hummingbirds. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More
  2. 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 $10.99 Sale $8.79
    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).
    Learn More
  3. Hymenoxys hoopesii, Owl's Claws, Orange Sneezeweed, close up of  huge golden-yellow flowers

    Owl's Claw (Hymenoxys hoopesii) is a fabulous native mountain wildflower with huge golden-yellow flowers in summer. With its long, downward curving golden-yellow flower petals and ce...

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    Owl's Claws (Hymenoxys) Owl's Claws, Orange Sneezeweed Hymenoxys hoopesii
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $9.99 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Owl's Claw (Hymenoxys hoopesii) is a fabulous native mountain wildflower with huge golden-yellow flowers in summer. With its long, downward curving golden-yellow flower petals and center cone, the graceful flowers are eye-catching. Highly attractive to many types of butterflies and bees, this durable perennial likes average to wet soil moisture and cool growing conditions, not for hot climates.
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  4. Vision® Violet Cranesbill, Geranium sanguineum ‘Vision® Violet’

    'Vision® Violet' Cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum) packs a purple punch in late-spring with vivid magenta flowers that bees and butterflies love. Easy-to-grow and critter resistant, ...

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    Vision® Violet Geranium Vision® Violet Cranesbill Geranium sanguineum Vision® Violet
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    'Vision® Violet' Cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum) packs a purple punch in late-spring with vivid magenta flowers that bees and butterflies love. Easy-to-grow and critter resistant, its low mounding habit makes Cranesbill perfect for borders and in between other plants, knitting together the garden in perfect harmony. In autumn, the foliage turns brilliant red-orange. This reliable groundcover is deer and rabbit resistant.
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  5. Golden Candles, Thermopsis lupinoides

    A super cold hardy Old World native, Golden Candles (Thermopsis lupinoides) blooms with stunning bright yellow lupine-like flower spikes in mid-spring. It pairs beautifully with mid-...

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    Golden Candles (Thermopsis) Golden Candles Thermopsis lupinoides
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    A super cold hardy Old World native, Golden Candles (Thermopsis lupinoides) blooms with stunning bright yellow lupine-like flower spikes in mid-spring. It pairs beautifully with mid-spring daffodils and tulips, and after flowers fade, attractive foliage mounds will enhance your garden through summer. Easily grown and long-lived, Golden Candles delivers welcome early-season color after a long, cold winter. A 2020 Plant Select® Winner.
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  6. Magic Mars Single Hollyhock, Alcea rosea Magic Mars, photo courtesy of Walter's Garden

    'Mars Magic' Single Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) brings classic style and architectural form to the summer garden. The tall stems are covered with scarlet-red single flowers with lemon th...

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    Mars Magic Single Hollyhock Magic Mars Single Hollyhock Alcea rosea Magic Mars
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $9.99 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    'Mars Magic' Single Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) brings classic style and architectural form to the summer garden. The tall stems are covered with scarlet-red single flowers with lemon throats. Flowers rise above the garden from mid-to-late summer, casting a colorful red sunset glow over the garden. Hummingbirds love these bright red flowers, as do butterflies. This cultivar is a true cold-hardy perennial, blooming every year.
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  7. Redbirds In A Tree (Scrophularia)

    Red Birds in a Tree is a rare perennial from the southern mountains of New Mexico and Arizona. It blooms all summer with spires of small red, white-lipped flowers that resemble a flo...

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    Redbirds In A Tree (Scrophularia) Redbirds In A Tree Scrophularia macrantha
    As low as $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Red Birds in a Tree is a rare perennial from the southern mountains of New Mexico and Arizona. It blooms all summer with spires of small red, white-lipped flowers that resemble a flock of red birds perched on a tree branch.
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  8. Shell Pink Dead Nettle, Lamium maculatum 'Shell Pink', soft pink blossoms with silver-streaked foliage

    'Shell Pink Improved' Lamium (Lamium maculatum) is is a tough and long-lived groundcover with lovely with heart-shaped leaves dashed with a silver streak. Interesting foliage is topp...

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    Shell Pink Improved Lamium Shell Pink Improved Spotted Dead Nettle Lamium maculatum Shell Pink Improved
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $8.49 Sale $6.79
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    'Shell Pink Improved' Lamium (Lamium maculatum) is is a tough and long-lived groundcover with lovely with heart-shaped leaves dashed with a silver streak. Interesting foliage is topped by soft pink blossoms from mid-spring to frost. It’s a beautiful groundcover, container plant, or lawn alternative to brighten part-to-full shade areas. A new form found in HCG Chief Horticulturist David Salman's Santa Fe greenhouse.
    Learn More

Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.

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