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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Fewflowered Eriogonum (Eriogonum pauciflorum)

The western third of North Dakota is home to the fewflowered eriogonum. This is a true Great Plains dweller, being restricted to dry grasslands and rocky slopes stretching from southern Saskatchewan to northern Colorado at moderate elevations.

Fewflowered eriogonum is perennial from a much-branched woody base and reddish taproot. Plants are up to 20 inches tall and often form mats. Leaves are about two inches long and 1/4 inch wide, and are light gray because of a dense covering of short pale hairs. Thin gray flower stalks (peduncles) bear their small clusters of flowers far above the leaves. Large, old plants may have dozens of such stalks. The clusters of flowers may be directly attached to the stalk, or on gray rays up to an inch long. Each cluster consists of about six gray-hairy cups called involucres. These are about 1/8 inch long, toothed, and each contains a tiny pinkish or orangish flower that is jointed at the base. The achenes (seeds) are also hairy.

Look for fewflowered eriogonum from June through August on dry prairies, sage flats, and butte tops where soils are clayey or gravelly. Cattle seem to disregard these semi-woody plants. Some southern and southwestern eriogonums, also called "wild buckwheats" or "umbrella plants," were used as foods and teas by Amerindians, but I could find no reference to uses of E. pauciflorum.

Fewflowered eriogonum 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 Erioqonum (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 pauciflorum means "few-flowered" in botanical Latin.

Fewflowered eriogonum was first described for science in 1814 by the German botanist Frederick Pursh. Pursh was the first to publish on the many new plants collected by Lewis and Clark during their famous Expedition of 1804-1806.

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