Plant of the Week
Lobb's Buckwheat (Eriogonum lobbii Torrey & Gray var. lobbii)
By Karen Wiese
Lobb's buckwheat is an interesting looking plant because its flowers are found on the end of a long prostrate or horizontal stems. The plant is found on open, rocky slopes and ridges from 1400 to 3500 meters (4,600 to 11,500 feet) in the mixed coniferous forest, subalpine forest and the alpine zone. The range of Lobb's buckwheat extends from Oregon to western Nevada and in California from the northwest of the state through the Cascade Range into the Sierra Nevada and into the Great Basin. Lobb's buckwheat is in the Polygonaceae or buckwheat family. Members of the buckwheat family are found worldwide, with over 20 genera in California. Several genera include species cultivated for food, such as buckwheat (Fagopyrum), sorrel (Rumex), and rhubarb (Rheum).
The plant is a woolly, sprawling perennial from a thick woody stem, 6 inches tall, and 2 to 16 inches wide. The leaves are soft-hairy, round, and up to 1 1/2 inches wide found at the base of the plant. The inflorescence is an umbel of one to several spheres of densely clustered flowers, 2 inches wide on a long, prostrate stem, 2 to 8 inches long. Instead of petals, each flower had six small, petal-like sepals. The creamy yellow flowers turn red-orange with age. It is thought that the red-orange pigments absorb heat, allowing the seeds to mature quicker as autumn temperatures drop.
The genus name is Greek for "wool knee," referring to the hairy nodes of many species, including this one. The species is named after the English botanist William Lobb (1809-1863) who traveled throughout the world as a "plant hunter" for the nursery firm of James Veitch.
Some Native Americans used the seeds of buckwheat to make flour. Many birds, small mammals, and deer depend on the seed of this genus for food. Buckwheats are important nectar and pollen sources many insects and are pollinated by flies and bees.
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