The Wonderful Sulfur Buckwheats

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.

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Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.

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