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Buckwheats of the Eastern Sierra

By Stephen Ingram, Nature Photography

One of the most diverse and interesting genera in California is Eriogonum, commonly known as the buckwheats. Approximately 250 species occur in North America, and 115 are found in California, 46 of which are endemic. Their diversity here is thought to be due to their relatively recent evolution in California's Mediterranean climate. Buckwheats are especially diverse and abundant in the desert regions. In the Northern Mojave, for example, Eriogonum is nearly twice as speciose as the next largest genus, Astragalus.

If you happen to like buckwheats, the Eastern Sierra is the place to be. Species from the Sierra, White Mountains, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert can be found within relatively short distances. From March in the desert, through the summer and into October, one can find colorful buckwheats somewhere in the Eastern Sierra region. Many of them also do well in cultivation.

Eriogonum caespitosum (78k)

Matted wild buckwheat
(Eriogonum caespitosum)
-- with yellow male and red bisexual flowers; widespread, common; photo from White Mountains.

Eriogonum fasciculatum var. polifolium (62k)

California buckwheat
(Eriogonum fasciculatum var. polifolium) -- pink flowered; widespread, common; photo from Eastern Sierra foothills.

Eriogonum gracilipes (74k)

White Mountain buckwheat
(Eriogonum gracilipes)
-- infrequent, but may be locally common; known only from Whites, central Sierra, and extreme western Nevada; photo from White Mountains.

Eriogonum kennedyi var. purpusii (71k)

Purpus's wild buckwheat
(Eriogonum kennedyi var. purpusii) -- infrequent, but may be locally common; known only from Eastern Sierra and extreme western Nevada; photo from above Lower Rock Creek Gorge.

Eriogonum lobbii (38k)

Lobb's buckwheat
(Eriogonum lobbii)
-- prostrate red inflorescences; widely scattered from Oregon to Sierra; photo from Mammoth Mountain.

Eriogonum microthecum var. ambiguum (55k)

Yellow-flowered Great Basin wild buckwheat (Eriogonum microthecum var. ambiguum)
-- common, from Southeastern Oregon to Eastern Sierra and western Nevada; photo from Buttermilk in Eastern Sierra foothills.

Eriogonum ovalifolium var. nivale (43k)

Oval-leaved buckwheat (Eriogonum ovalifolium var. nivale) -- in crack of granite rock; widespread from northern Cascades through high elevations in Sierra; photo from Tamarack Lakes, John Muir Wilderness Area.

Erogonum ovalifolium var. purpureum (43k)

Desert cushion buckwheat (Eriogonum ovalifolium var. purpureum) -- widespread and locally common; from northeastern California to Eastern Sierra; photo from White Mountains.

Eriogonum rosense (51k)

Mt. Rose wild buckwheat (Eriogonum rosense)
-- uncommon, local; from west-
central Nevada, Eastern Sierra and disjunct to Mt. Lassen; photo from Tamarack Lakes, John Muir Wilderness Area.

Eriogonum umbellatum var. nevadense (80k)

Sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum var. nevadense) -- with purple sage (Salvia dorrii); widespread and common; photo from above Lower Rock Creek Gorge.

Eriogonum umbellatum var. versicolor (83k)

Variegated sulfur flower (Eriogonum umbellatum var. versicolor) -- infrequent and local; known only from south- eastern Nevada and eastern California mountains; photo from Panamint Mountains near Telescope Peak.

Eriogonum wrightii var. subscaposum (53k)

Matted Wright's wild buckwheat (Eriogonum wrightii var. subscaposum) -- widespread, common; from Lassen County to northern Baja; photo from Swall Meadows.


Hickman, James C., editor. The Jepson Manual. 1993. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Raven, Peter H. and Daniel I. Axelrod. 1978. Origin and relationships of the California flora. University of California Publications in Botany, vol. 72. University of California Press.

Reveal, James L. "A weekend of wooly knees: Polygonaceae subfam. Eriogonoideae north of Mexico," Jepson Herbarium Workshop, July 1997.

About the Photographer

STEPHEN INGRAM came to photography with a background in botany. He received an M.S. degree in Botany from U.C.S.B. and became more seriously interested in photography while working in Costa Rica and at Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida, where he was the herbarium manager.

His photos have been published in several books, calendars, field guides, as notecards, and in magazines such as The American Gardener, Backpacker, The Nature Conservancy, Nature's Best, Outdoor California, Sierra, Sierra Heritage, and others.

Stephen Ingram currently serves as Vice President of the Bristlecone Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. Stephen can be reached through Stephen Ingram Nature Photography.

Photos and text © 1999 Stephen Ingram. All rights reserved.




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