The next few months in Southern California are going to be hot, dry, and smoggy. The summer air turns a muddy hue, with the hillsides covered with dry plants that glow warmly gold. It even feels like late summer weather has arrived early, with triple digit temps that usually start in September already here. It’s only going to get hotter.
In the extreme hot and dry conditions of a SoCal summer, many plants can’t survive without our help and extra water, especially those that are arguably not suitable for our climate such as old-fashioned favorites like impatiens, hydrangea, and traditional turf. California native plants – a more suitable landscaping choice – have adapted to these conditions over time, and some cope by going dormant until fall arrives. Without water, they look dead, but will spring back to life at the first hint of rains.
One native plant that thrives in these conditions is the genus Eriogonum, aka buckwheat. Dotting the hillsides, this plant bursts into flower in mid to late summer. Depending on the species, its leaves range from feathery deep green to silver. The flowers are most often white puffs – clusters of tiny flowers – that turn a shade of pink and then rust as they age. By fall, the florescence turn to deep-red seed heads.
When I first moved to Los Angeles in September 2007, it was a buckwheat that tempted me into exploring the world of California plants. Hiking the hillsides of Mount Washington, I spotted the 6 foot tall airy stems of Eriogonum elongatum, Long-Stem Buckwheat, clumped against the dry hillsides. It was the only thing blooming that time of year, and its gentle movement and cheerful blossoms were different than anything else I’d seen before.
Now, ten years later, my home garden has five different kinds of buckwheat blooming or preparing to bloom, including Eriogonum elongatum, E. x blissianum, E. fasciculatum, E. fasciculatum ‘Bruce Dickinson’, and E. arborescens. The flowers will carry through the end of summer, feeding pollinators and providing texture and color to my dry garden.