Buckwheat in Bloom

According to the California Native Plant Society’s Calscape.org, there are 251 varieties of buckwheat (Eriogonum) native to California! You can go to Calscape.org and see for yourself all of the beautiful buckwheat varieties that grow in the state.

Buckwheat “Dana Point.’ Photo by Kris Ethington.

Three different varieties of buckwheat are growing in my home garden currently, and I am looking forward to adding the ‘Dana Point’ selection being offered to homeowners through A Buckwheat in Every Garden this October.

After I pick up my free ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat in October, I will install it in my garden near the sidewalk leading to the front door.

Dana Point buckwheat provides seeds for the birds, habitat for lizards, and nectar for many varieties of tiny California native bees and butterflies.

Buckwheats are hardy and easy to establish. Plant them in a sunny place in the garden without amendments or fertilizers and they will thrive. California buckwheats rarely need pruning–once a year in December at most. After the plant is established, rainfall is all of the water a buckwheat will need, but watering the plant once a month will keep it green longer.

Ashyleaf Buckwheat newly installed in landscape.

At right is a photo of Ashyleaf Buckwheat (Eriogonum cinereum) that I planted in my garden three weeks ago. This wild buckwheat grows on beaches and bluffs in California. Ashyleaf buckwheat is the food plant for the Euphilotes bernardino, the Bernardino dotted blue butterfly.

Acmon Blue butterfly visits a California buckwheat.

The next post will talk about the Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society’s buckwheat giveaway in more detail, providing specific dates and places where you can get your free, four-inch ‘Dana Point’ California buckwheat plant in October and November while supplies last.

Butterfly Weekend

This weekend was California Biodiversity Day 2019 sponsored by the California Natural Resources Agency.  Scientists sought observations by fellow scientists, gardeners and ordinary citizens in mapping plants and animals living in California.

Male and female monarchs get together on the leaves of an alder tree to perpetuate the species. Photo by Jeff Wallace.

In honor of Biodiversity Day, I took a break from my chores and spent some time outside in my backyard with my husband to observe the local wildlife. We saw eight different species of butterflies, cactus wrens eating California coffee berries, hummingbirds sipping nectar from California fuchsia, a lizard doing push-ups on our garden wall, and a leaf-cutter bee laying eggs.

A pair of woodland skippers resting on a ceanothus.

After taking these photos, we uploaded them to iNaturalist, a citizen science project and online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe.

Metalmark butterfly at rest.

It’s fun discovering tiny butterflies and native bees that live in the garden.  I spend a lot of time watching the butterflies, wishing they would rest so I can capture their image with my iPhone.

My friend in Costa Mesa noticed Monarch caterpillars had eaten all of the leaves of her two narrow-leaf milkweed bushes this week.  She was alarmed and worried the caterpillars would need more food.  She drove to Armstrong Nursery on Thursday and purchased a large narrow-leaf milkweed and her Monarch caterpillars are happily munching away once again.  They are hungry!

Monarch caterpillar feasting on a narrow-leaf milkweed. Photo by Cynthia Grilli.

Scientists were concerned because the annual Western Monarch butterfly count was historically low this year (fewer than 30,000 butterflies were counted–down 99 percent from the 1980’s).  They fear the Western Monarch may be nearing extinction.

It feels hopeful to see these chubby caterpillars, and the two adults mating in my garden this week.  If you would like to learn more about how you can help Monarchs, go to The Xerces Society.

 

 

Simple Ways to Make Your Garden Good for Butterflies

Bringing local wild land plants into your garden will increase the number of butterflies inhabiting your airspace.

Two monarch butterflies cruising together beneath a Coast Live tree.

For residents in Southern California, gardening with native California plants can be unfamiliar. Most homeowners appreciate the ease of shopping at their neighborhood Home Depot Garden Center, Lowes, and True Value for plants. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find California native plants at these outlets.

The showy orange-colored, non-native tropical milkweed is available from local retailers like Home Depot, but tropical milkweed is not healthy for adult monarch butterflies in Southern California.

Why Native Milkweed

Native milkweed for sale at Rogers Gardens in Corona del Mar, California.

Tropical milkweed (non-native) hosts a protozoan parasite that harms adult monarch butterflies in Southern California.

To help increase monarch butterfly populations, plant milkweed that is native to your area. In Southern California, narrow-leaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) is one of the best species of milkweed to support monarch butterfly populations.

Narrow-leaf milkweed

Narrow-leaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) growing in the wild at O’Neill Regional Park in Southern California.

You can find native milkweed at nurseries that grow or source California native plants. Tree of Life Nursery  in San Clemente is the largest grower of California native plants in the state. Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar also sells California native plants that are safe for birds and butterflies.

Tree of Life Nursery

Fall flowers for pollinators at Tree of Life.

When you visit Tree of Life Nursery, you can choose among thousands of California native plants that are all beneficial to birds and butterflies.

In the next post, I will talk about some of the easiest California native plants to grow in your garden, including the California buckwheat of course!

California buckwheat

California buckwheat growing in a home garden.

If you would like more information about butterflies, including monarchs, visit The Xerces Society.  

Local Plants Support Bird Life

Did you know that 96 percent of songbirds rear their young on insects?  That one nest of chickadees requires 4,000 caterpillars and insects to fledge their young?

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

Our national parks and nature preserves are not adequate to support bird and butterfly populations according to Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home.  Tallamy estimates that only 3 percent of land in the lower 48 is set aside as parkland and nature preserves. The remaining 97 percent of land is being used for agriculture, residential and commercial development.

Tallamy argues that part of the reason bird and butterfly populations have been declining is because we have been planting ornamental plants in our commercial and residential landscapes instead of native plants.

Fountain Grass

Ornamental and invasive fountain grass planted on a residential hillside.

Tallamy’s simple solution to reverse the decline of bird populations, is to encourage homeowners and business owners to plant locally native vegetation instead of ornamental plants.  Even planting a small corner of your garden with locally native plants will help support bird life and butterflies.

Buckwheat and Purple Three Awn

St. Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum) and Purple Three Awn decorate a patio.

Locally native plants support butterfly life because the butterflies evolved to feed from the native vegetation.  More butterflies mean more birds.

Try planting native.  You will love the results.

California Buckwheat is a Pollinator Magnet

The Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society (OCCNPS) will be giving a free four-inch California buckwheat plant to local residents this October to introduce homeowners to the beauty of California native plants in the garden.

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Bernardino Blue butterfly on California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasiculatum). Photo by Chuck Wright.

Why buckwheat? According to the native plant experts at Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano, “In the garden, few plants can equal Eriogonum–or buckwheat–for sheer habitat value. Eriogonums are host plants and nectar plants for butterflies and moths, and are a bonanza for bees and other pollinators looking for summer food. The dried seeds provide abundant food for seed-eating birds, and the shrubby structures shelter lizards and other wildlife.”

Buckwheat growing under fruit trees

Buckwheat blossoms in late summer.

Buckwheat plants look great in a corner of a garden, as a centerpiece, and spilling over slopes. They are easy to care for and stay green with just a little supplemental water.  Two California buckwheat plants planted twenty years ago near my fruit trees have blossomed for months, and hundreds of tiny pollinators are feasting on buckwheat nectar. These pollinators increase the productivity of my fruit trees and support bird life.

Acmon Blue butterfly visits a California buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Lady beetle visits a buckwheat blossom. Photo by Kris Ethington.

If you would like to add a California buckwheat to your garden, the OCCNPS chapter buckwheat give-away begins October 5 at Acorn Day in O’Neill Park.  One four-inch Dana Point buckwheat will be given for free to Orange County homeowners while supplies last this fall.

More details with dates and places for the buckwheat give-away will be provided in future posts. In the meantime, stay cool and enjoy the waning days of summer.

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Pool with blue-eyed grass, purple three awn, and concha ceanothus.