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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Yellow Wild Buckwheat (Eriogonum flavum)

Found throughout western North Dakota, yellow wild buckwheat is a true Great Plains denizen, occurring from central Montana to central Colorado and western Nebraska. The wild buckwheats have also been called "umbrella plants."

Yellow wild buckwheat is perennial from a heavy woody taproot and reddish multiple root crown. Plants up to two feet tall occur, but most North Dakota specimens are less than 10 inches tall. Leaves are 2-4 inches long, all basal, and silvery-wooly on the lower side and grayish-green on the upper. Dozens of sulfur-yellow flowers are crowded into inch-wide heads atop leafless stems. A few leaf-like bracts subtend the heads. Heads are termed "umbels" because flower clusters are on slender stalks that radiate upward from a central point.

Look for yellow wild buckwheat in late June to early July on dry clay hilltops and slopes of buttes. Some southern and southwestern wild buckwheats were used as foods and teas by Amerindians, but I could find no reference to uses of E. flavum. Grazing by livestock seems to have little effect on the abundance of this plant.

Yellow wild buckwheat is a member of the smartweed family (Polygonaceae) which contains about 30 genera and 900 species. Buckwheat and rhubarb are the only economically important species. The genus Eriogonum (from the Greek erion "wool" and gonu "knee or joint" refers to the heavy pubescence and swollen joints found on many species in this group. There are nearly 200 species in the genus, all in America and best developed in the southwest. The specific epithet flavum means "yellow" in botanical Latin.

Yellow wild buckwheat was described for science in 1813 by Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859), the eminent English-American naturalist who visited the Mandan villages along the Missouri River in 1810-1811.

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