Buckwheats Around Town

A Buckwheat in Every Garden was created with the hope that sharing a free native plant with gardeners would help improve habitat for birds and pollinators in home landscapes throughout Orange County. We recently reached out to people who picked up a free buckwheat to see how their new buckwheat plant is growing.

Here’s a sample of what people are telling us:

  • My buckwheat appears to be doing well. It is on a SW facing mini-slope at the base of a young Engleman Oak, near where our driveway and sidewalk meet. I appreciate this outreach program and hope that my yard and I can become ambassadors for natives!–Brian
  • I’m happy to report that the buckwheat I received at the Fullerton Arboretum is alive and well. It’s about 2-3 times the size it was when I picked it up… It’s in full sun, right in the middle of my butterfly garden.–Carla
  • The buckwheat plant is doing very well. It is over 15” high at this time and looks very healthy.–Albertus
  • The buckwheat in my garden is thriving.–Trina

We also received some important questions:

How often should I water my buckwheat now that the rainy season is over?

We recommend watering your fall-or winter-planted buckwheat twice a month on a cool morning (60 to 75 degrees). If your buckwheat was planted early last fall, and has tripled in size, you can try watering it once a month deeply when it’s cool.

Why water only when it is cool? 

For the best success with your new buckwheat and most native plants, water ahead of the heat wave. It doesn’t rain in Southern California from May through September–these plants are built for our long, dry, and hot summer. Do Not Water Every Day!

How do I water a brand new 4-inch buckwheat I picked up in May?

If you just picked up a new starter buckwheat plant, water it very deeply as soon as you plant it. Then water deeply once a week or every five days if it’s really hot. After the first month or so, soak your buckwheat once every two weeks (on a cool morning) until the rainy season begins.

(R. Moore)

My buckwheat is already 15 inches tall. How big will my buckwheat get?

Your buckwheat can grow to be three feet tall and three feet wide. Your buckwheat will soon start blooming and attracting pollinators. Most people prune their buckwheat in December after the blooming period has ended.

(K. Ethington)

Is this a coastal plant? Will it get as big as a tree?

The ‘Dana Point’ California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) is selected from a buckwheat that grows in the coastal Dana Point Headlands. It can grow up to three feet wide and tall, but it can also be pruned to the ground in December to refresh it and keep its growth in check. It will not get as big as a tree. This buckwheat is a shrub. Buckwheats grow inland and along the coast.

Is California buckwheat edible? Can I make buckwheat flour out of it?

California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) cannot be made into flour. Buckwheat pancake flour is made from California buckwheat’s Eurasian cousin, the crop plant, common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum).

Are these buckwheat plants sold in any nursery?

Yes, you can find the ‘Dana Point’ California buckwheat at Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano.

My buckwheat died, what should I do?

We have good news: You are invited to try again! Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar and Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano are giving away a free four-inch California buckwheat to anyone able to stop by the nurseries during operating hours. Check their web sites for current hours of operations.

Thank you to everyone who sent photos of their new buckwheat and shared their buckwheat stories and questions. There is still time to plant a new buckwheat before July. Stop by Roger’s Gardens or Tree of Life to get a new plant and install it in your yard to help animals, pollinators, and birds thrive in Orange County.

(K. Ethington)

Powered by Insects

Did you know that most birds gather insects every day to nourish themselves and feed their offspring? Many people believe birds can survive eating seed from bird feeders, but most birds need insects to provide digestible protein for energy, migration, and breeding. A baby bird’s tender digestive system needs soft, fat-filled proteins from insects and caterpillars to fuel its growth.

Bushtit collects insects. (K. Ethington)

The photo above shows an American bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus) gathering all sorts of insects, including aphids, from a salvia in a Southern California backyard. A bushtit is a tiny bird, smaller than many hummingbirds, weighing about .19 ounces. Despite their diminutive size, bushtits still need plenty of insects to feed themselves and their babies in the nest.

Birds are having a hard time finding enough insects to eat. Scientists have estimated that 40 percent of insect species are threatened by extinction. Insects are integral to the food web, eaten by everything from birds to mammals and fish. Insects also pollinate crops that produce one-third of the world’s food supply, and they break down waste.

Insects for breakfast. (K. Ethington)

Bird populations have declined along with insect populations. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, bird populations have declined by 2.9 billion birds since 1970. The decline is due to habitat loss, invasive plants, pesticide use, and more.

Breakfast. (K. Ethington)

Each of us can do our part to help increase bird populations. If we plant vegetation that is native to where we live, we won’t need to use pesticides or herbicides. It may seem counterintuitive to encourage insect life, but they are a valuable and necessary part of our food cycle.

More breakfast. (K. Ethington)

The next time you need to replace a plant in your yard, plant a native! Your soil health will improve (without amendments or compost), you won’t need to use pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers, songbirds will come to nest, and butterflies will appear.

Roger’s Gardens and Tree of Life Nursery are offering a free California buckwheat to homeowners who want to try starting a native plant garden in their home landscape. Stop by their garden centers to pick up a free buckwheat plant while spring is in the air.

Garden While Spring is Here

Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano and Roger’s Gardens in Newport Beach are open and have free buckwheat plants available for pick-up (while supplies last).

When you go to pick up your free buckwheat, consider buying a few extra native plants to install in your garden this spring. Tree of Life Nursery is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, closed on Sundays. Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday.

New native plants. (E. Wallace)

I visited Tree of Life Nursery last week to purchase a dozen native plants to replace non-native ferns that grew in a small planter. I removed the ferns and installed monkey flowers, yarrows, coral bells, and dudleyas before the rain poured another 3 inches on my garden. The finished installation is shown below…the hummingbirds and bumblebees now have more plants to provide nectar.

New natives. (E. Wallace)

Featured below are a few recent photos that illustrate what happens when you install native plants. Birds, bumblebees, and other pollinators flourish and multiply.

Bushtits. (K. Ethington)

Rufous hummingbird.  (K. Ethington)

Swallowtail. (K. Ethington)

Hoverfly. (E. Wallace)

Gray Hairstreak visits buckwheat. (K. Ethington)

Stop by Roger’s Gardens or Tree of Life Nursery and pick up your free buckwheat plant while supplies last. Enjoy your time in the garden. It is one of the safest places we can be right now. Stay safe and be well!

My Interview with the LA Times

Jeanette Marantos, garden reporter for the LA Times, called me in mid-February as I was returning home from a landscape restoration project I work on in Trabuco Canyon.

(L to R) Brad Jenkins, president of OCCNPS, volunteer Vern Jones, Jeff Wallace and myself, after planting four Coast Live Oak trees and two toyons at a landscaping project in Trabuco Canyon. (E. Wallace)

Marantos asked me to provide a short list of the best native plants Southern Californians can plant in their home landscapes, and also why it is important to plant natives in the home garden.

We spoke on the phone for an hour and I suggested California native plants that are beautiful and easy-to-grow. We researched the plants together on the Calscape database. We also discussed Doug Tallamy’s research that shows when non-native ornamental plants are installed in the landscape, insect populations plummet because insects are co-evolved to feed from native plant species, not from introduced plant species.

Marantos’ article appeared in the LA Times on February 28 and is titled “Want to help bees and butterflies? Add these plants to your garden.”

Want to help bees and butterflies? Illustration by Julie Yellow for The Times.

Marantos wrote: “Once upon a time in Southern California, landscaping was primarily about decoration — the greenest lawn, easy-care sculptural shrubs and a few showstopper flowers, almost none native to the region or welcoming to butterflies or bees. In truth, we did everything we could to keep bugs out of our yards, and it worked — far too well.”

She spoke with Ron Vanderhoff, vice president of the Orange County Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (OCCNPS) and general manager of Roger’s Gardens nursery, who said, “Bees, butterflies and other native insects are dwindling because they’re running out of the habitat and food provided by native plants. If we want to save them — and the birds and other animals that need those insects to survive — we need to change how we think about landscaping.”

“There’s been a mind change where gardening is not just decorating, it’s doing something to help the world,” Vanderhoff said. “It’s gardening with a purpose to it.”

Hummingbird visits native manzanita. (Kris Ethington)

Kris Ethington, board member of OCCNPS, and winner of Orange County’s 2018 California Friendly Garden contest for re-landscaping her entire yard with only native plants, discussed her favorite plants for the garden including oaks, lemonadeberry, toyon, and verbena de la mina.

Here is a list of California native plants that Ron, Kris and I consider must-haves in every garden as reported in the LA Times:

Buckwheat growing under fruit trees

Buckwheat blossoms in late summer home garden. (E. Wallace)

If you are going to add just one native plant to your yard, make it a California buckwheat. At OCCNPS, we believe this is such an important plant for the landscape that we gave away 1,500 starter buckwheat plants to Orange County homeowners in our A Buckwheat in Every Garden program.

Hummingbird finding nectar from a Cleveland sage. (Kris Ethington)

Salvias and sages are pollinators’ favorite flowers. White sage is a sacred plant to Native Americans; it has silvery foliage and thrives in hot, dry locations. For shady locations, hummingbird sage spreads abundantly, blossoming with magenta-colored flowers in spring and summer. Vanderhoff also recommends the fragrant Cleveland sage which thrives in most parts of Southern California.

Monarch caterpillar munching on a narrow-leaf milkweed. (Cynthia Grilli)

Narrow-leaf milkweed has white flowers and is the best milkweed for monarch butterflies in Southern California. Many nurseries sell the orange tropical milkweed, but tropical milkweed is not native to Southern California, and researchers have discovered that tropical milkweed hosts a protozoa that makes adult monarchs sickly and weak, according to Vanderhoff. For that reason, Vanderhoff’s nursery, Roger’s Gardens, only sells narrow-leaf milkweed.

Maritime ceanothus. (Kris Ethington)

Ceanothus, commonly known as the California lilac, is a gardener’s favorite. With its honey sweet scent and profuse violet blossoms, this is a must have for every garden. The ceanothus variety ‘Yankee Point’ spills down hillsides in shady inland gardens. ‘Ray Hartman‘ ceanothus is a small-tree-sized California lilac covered with deep violet blossoms in springtime.

Native bumble with pollen on its legs and a lupine. (Kris Ethington)

California poppies and lupine wildflowers are easy-to-grow annuals with spectacular spring and summer flowers. Gardeners can sow the seeds of these flowers just before winter rains and provide abundant support for pollinators. You can purchase these seeds from Tree of Life Nursery and Theodore Payne Foundation.

Black-tailed bumblebee visits manzanita. (Kris Ethington)

Manzanitas are the superstars of California natives. If anything will turn people toward natives, it’s manzanitas. Manzanitas’ bell-shaped blossoms, structural characteristics, and rich red bark make this a garden standout. Two varieties of manzanitas are excellent choices for the first-time native gardener: Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’ and ‘Howard McMinn.’

Join me at and other members of OCCNPS at The Dana Point Headlands Earth Day Celebration on April 25, and pick up a free California ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plant. We care about your garden and the pollinators your garden can support with the right native plants. Join us and bring your questions. We are here to help.

Bring More Hummingbirds, Orioles, and Warblers to Your Home

How can you get more birds visiting your garden?

Hummingbird gathering nectar from Cleveland Sage. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Go to Audubon’s guide for plants that attract birds.

Orange-Crowned Warbler foraging on Showy Penstemon. Photo by Kris Ethington.

When you click on this link, you will be directed to the Audubon Society database that recommends plants that help birds thrive where you live. Enter your 5-digit zip code and explore the best plants for birds in your area, as well as local resources and links to more information.

Hooded Oriole feeding chick. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Click the Audubon link and learn which native plants will bring more birds to your garden this spring.

Hummingbird fledgling perched on a Cleveland Sage with parent in the background. Photo by Kris Ethington.

If you live in Southern California, you can find bird-friendly native plants for sale at Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano.

Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano. (Elizabeth Wallace)

And on Saturday, March 12 from 3 to 5 p.m., you can pick up a free California buckwheat plant at the Arbor Day celebration at Lang Park in Laguna Beach while supplies last.

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is partnering with National Audubon Society to encourage all of us to go outside this weekend and count the birds we see in our backyard or favorite place.

Sandpipers at Laguna Beach, CA. (Elizabeth Wallace)

I spent about 30 minutes this morning with a pair of binoculars and my Birds of California Field Guide by Stan Tekiela. I counted five American Robins, one Yellow-Rumped Warbler, a Cooper’s Hawk, and three White-Crowned Sparrows.

Cooper’s Hawk in search of breakfast. Photo by Kris Ethington.

The count continues through the Presidents’ Day holiday on Monday, February 17. Audubon encourages people from around the world to count wild birds and then submit the data online for scientists to use in their research. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an easy-to-use phone app to help you record and identify the birds you see. It’s called Merlin.

The Merlin app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology helps you record the birds you saw during the Great Backyard Bird Count.

You can add this app to your phone for free and quickly identify and record the birds you observed this weekend. It’s easy and fun and will help scientists better understand trends in bird populations worldwide.

Pelicans at sunset in Irvine, California. Photo by Yana Bridle.

After you’ve finished counting birds, join us in April at the Fullerton Arboretum Green Scene. We will be giving away free buckwheat and also offering other California native plants for sale.

California buckwheat plants are flowering machines that attract hundreds of pollinators. These pollinators are an important food source for birds. I look forward to seeing you this Thursday.

Tiny masked bee visits California buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Saying Good Bye to a Billion Birds

Did you know that in 2016, North America had more than a billion fewer breeding birds than 40 years ago?

Blue birds eating insects. Photo by the Louis Gintner Botanical Garden.

What is contributing to the decline in bird populations? Scientist Doug Tallamy has discovered that when non-native ornamental plants are installed in the landscape, insect populations plummet because insects are co-evolved to feed from native plant species, not from introduced plant species.

Insects make up 96 percent of terrestrial birds’ food source.

Carolina chickadee prepares to feed young. Photo by Douglas Tallamy.

 

Thousands of lady beetles hibernating in a canyon area in a southern California woodland in the winter of 2020. Photo by Ron Vanderhoff.

We have 3,300 species of ornamental plants (from other areas of the world) introduced in the United States. These plants are cultivated and promoted by nurseries and home improvement centers because they are unusual, pretty, and easy to grow.

Ornamental Pampas Grass (from Argentina and Brazil) invades a creek in Southern California. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Introduced ornamental plants do not support abundant insect life, and without insects–humans, birds, and animals cannot survive. Other factors contributing to the reduction in bird populations include pesticide use, bird strikes on windows and plexiglass fencing, and feral cats. To learn more, you can read Tallamy’s research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS).

Ornamental fountain grass (from Africa) planted in a residential landscape in Southern California.

What can you do to help? Start by learning about native plants from your region. If you live in California, you can go to CalScape.org and type in your zip code. You will find a list of plants that are native to your area, and the insects and pollinators the native plant supports.

California Native Plant Society

Returning birdsong to the outdoors is one of the reasons why the Orange County California Native Plant Society is giving away one free ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat to Orange County homeowners. Buckwheat supports 15 species of butterflies and moths, not to mention all of the native bees and other insects that thrive with this plant in the landscape. Plant a California buckwheat today and help birds find enough to eat.

Lady Beetle Visits Buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Buckwheat in Winter

Pictured here is a large expanse of California buckwheat growing healthy and wild in O’Neill Park in November, just before the rainy season began. Notice how the flowers have turned a rusty reddish brown as this shrub reflects the changing seasons.

Field of buckwheat, oak trees and clouds in November before the seasonal rains began. (Elizabeth Wallace)

The buckwheat flower is turning to seed as winter approaches. California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) is distantly related to the Eurasian crop plant common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), which is used for pancakes, bread, and porridges. Unlike its European relative, the seed of the California buckwheat is not commonly used as a grain but instead feeds local birds and wildlife. If you trim the reddish flowers in winter, lay them on the ground for wildlife to enjoy.

California Buckwheat heading into the fall season. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Author Michael Wilken-Robinson reports in his book “Kumeyaay Ethnobotany” that native Baja Californians cook buckwheat flowers and leaves with water to make a tea to calm nerves. Others report using California buckwheat to cure digestive disorders. Medicinal uses for buckwheat are widespread among the Kumeyaay people.

Kumeyaay Ethnobotany by Michael Wilken-Robinson

In the spring and summer, California buckwheat is an important source of nectar for bees and is prized for the fragrant honey produced from the flower. Buckwheat honey has a delicate flavor and aroma.

Honey bee visiting buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

More honey comes from pollinated buckwheat than any other native plant in California. Visit your local farmer’s market to purchase local buckwheat honey and enjoy its sweet, rich flavor throughout the year.

Buckwheat honey. (Elizabeth Wallace)

It’s hard to resist the allure of the iconic California buckwheat and all of the benefits it will provide in your garden landscape.

Restored Habitat at Shipley Supports Wildlife

I took advantage of the break in the rain last weekend to visit Shipley Nature Center for their A Buckwheat in Every Garden giveaway in Huntington Beach.

Sycamore tree overhangs natural pathway. (Elizabeth Wallace)

The 18-acre Shipley Nature Center is a California native botanical area and wetland. The centerpiece of the gardens is a fresh water pond surrounded by various California native habitat gardens, restful seating areas, and natural pathways.

Red toyon berries flank an adirondack chair in autumn. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Shipley offers vermiculture (worm composting) demonstration sites, rain harvesting and storage examples, and a native plant nursery on site. Fallen tree branches are stacked along some of the pathways, providing perfect habitat for California native bees.

An Urbane Digger Bee in flight. Photo by Kris Ethington.

The City of Huntington Beach and the nonprofit Friends of Shipley Nature Center began restoration of the site in 1974. They removed invasive plants such as tamarisk and black mustard, then planted fifty thousand native plants. This site now supports snowy egrets, great blue herons, ducks, turtles, Cooper’s hawks, cedar waxwings, and many other species of birds, and butterflies.

Cooper’s hawk in search of breakfast. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Shipley Nature Center is an oasis in the city of Huntington Beach. Take your family to visit over the holidays and walk along 4,000 feet of trails that wander through oak woodlands, Torrey pines, willows, coastal sage scrub, and butterfly gardens. Admission is free, and visitor hours are from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Matilija poppies in full flower at Shipley. Photo by Mary LeBoeuf.

Don’t forget to look for the buckwheats planted near the entrance of the site, and remember to look up! You may be rewarded by the site of a snowy egret near its tangled branch nest in the tree tops.

Do you see the ghostly figure of the snowy egret near the nest built in the sycamore tree at Shipley? Photo by Mary LeBoeuf.

How the Buckwheat Campaign Began

California buckwheat. Photo by Ron Vanderhoff.

The idea for A Buckwheat in Every Garden was hatched in July 2019 when board members of the California Native Plant Society, Orange County chapter (OCCNPS) met for their annual strategy meeting. The goal of the campaign: To encourage Orange County homeowners to install California native plants in their home landscapes to support healthy urban environments.

OCCNPS committee members defined the goals of the campaign: Distribute 1,500 California buckwheat ‘Dana Point’ plants, one plant per Orange County homeowner, from October 2019 through February 29, 2020, or until all plants are distributed. Plants are given in exchange for the homeowner’s street and city address, so the plants can be mapped on A Buckwheat in Every Garden iNaturalist map.

The committee worked with Tree of Life Nursery to support the cultivation of 1,500 ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants in decorative four-inch containers. The committee also worked with Roger’s Gardens to help distribute and promote the buckwheat campaign.

California buckwheat ‘Dana Point’ variety. Photo by Laura Camp.

OCCNPS committee members created a blog and a web page and began an Instagram and Twitter account. A new iNaturalist mapping program was created specifically for the campaign and added to the OCCNPS web site.

A Buckwheat in Every Garden is funded by OCCNPS’ small treasury and is operated with all volunteer labor. OCCNPS is a 501(c)(3) California non-profit organization. Upcoming buckwheat give-away outreach events are listed below (while supplies last):

OCCNPS gives away California buckwheat ‘Dana Point’ at Acorn Day in O’Neill Regional Park. Photo by Ian Morrell.

  1. San Clemente Garden Club,  Wednesday, November 6 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., San Clemente.
  2. Laguna Beach Garden Club, Friday, November 8 from 9:30 a.m. to noon, Laguna Beach.
  3. Sherman Library and Gardens, Friday, November 8 from 10:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., Corona del Mar.
  4. The city of Dana Point, Dana Point Community Center, 34052 Del Obispo, Dana Point, Friday, November 15 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. This event is ambitious: We hope to distribute 200 buckwheats in four hours. Help us make that happen. We will see you there.

Fullerton Arboretum event on November 1st. Photo by Maryanne Mayeda.

If you haven’t had a chance to pick up your free buckwheat yet, join us at one of the four events listed above, and share your address with us so we can plot your new buckwheat on the iNaturalist map. The plants go quickly, so arrive early.

Fairy bee visits buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

 

Buckwheats Buzz

Most people recognize the common honey bee as a social creature that lives in hives and makes honey. However many people don’t know that honey bees are non-native insects, introduced from Europe.

European honey bee visiting buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

There are 1,600 species of native bees in California, ranging in size from one-inch long to less than one-quarter inch long. California native bees are often solitary, living in wood or underground tunnels, and most do not make honey. They are important to the existence of our wild lands, and serve as food that supports other species.

Fairy Bees visit buckwheat blossoms. Photo by Kris Ethington.

California native bees love buckwheat’s profusion of blossoms. If you look closely at your California buckwheat when it’s in full bloom in the summer, you will see hundreds of tiny bees and butterflies scattered throughout its blossoms.

Fiery Skipper butterfly visits buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

If you would like to learn more about California native bees, visit the website for UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.

And if you would like to support our native pollinators, join us as we give away California buckwheat plants (while supplies last) at three upcoming events in November:

  1. The Fullerton Arboretum is hosting A Buckwheat in Every Garden give-away on Friday, November 1, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  2. Roger’s Gardens is giving away four-inch California ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Corona del Mar on Friday, November 1.
  3. The San Clemente Garden Club is hosting a buckwheat give-away on Wednesday, November 6 from 1 to 3 p.m. Brad Jenkins, President of the Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society, will be presenting that afternoon as well.

    An Urbane Digger Bee in flight. Photo by Kris Ethington.

    OCCNPS gave away more than 400 ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants in October. Visit our iNaturalist map to see the hundreds of buckwheat plants that have gone to their new Orange County home landscapes.

Buckwheat Builds Soil

California buckwheat is an evergreen plant with small leaves that occasionally drop to the ground, forming a natural mulch. The fallen leaves enrich the soil around the plant and allow the plant to grow and spread in its own loamy mulch.

California buckwheat leaves and stem. Photo by Ron Vanderhoff.

If you are an Orange County homeowner who hasn’t picked up your free ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat yet, stop by Roger’s Gardens at 2301 San Joaquin Hills Rd., Corona del Mar on Tuesday, October 22 through Thursday, October 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is the only three-day giveaway we have planned, so take advantage of it if you can.

Rogers Gardens is participating in the A Buckwheat in Every Garden campaign.