Polygonaceae (Buckwheat Family)

Members of the Polygonaceae Family are mostly herbaceous - including the two species of cultivated buckwheat. The infloresences (flower heads) are conspicuous, but the actual flowers are very tiny, and with no petals. The 4 to 6 lobed calyx is often brightly colored, though. There are 3 to 9 stamens, and a small dry fruit that is almost entirely one seed.

The Rumex (Sorrel) and Polygonum (Knotweed and Smartweed) genera include many of our most troublesome weedy alien invasives, while the Eriogoniums make excellent additions to native gardens.

On Montara Mountain. members of Polygonaceae include the native Coast Buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium) and the invasives Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella). and Curly Dock (Rumex crispus).



Eriogonum latifolium:
Coast Buckwheat

Polygonaceae (Buckwheat Family)

Flowers: Whitish-Pink, tiny; in ball-like clusters on top of branched, leafless stems.

Blooms: May - October

Leaves: Dark green above, white and wooly below, tough with wavy edges, in dense clumps at base of stems.

Fruit/Seeds: Small, rust-colored seeds that develop from the flower heads.

Location: Rocky slopes along most trails.

Status: Native - Common


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Eriogonum latifolium
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Further description & Comment: 6 inches - 2 feet tall. Stems may be woody at base - leaves not truely basal, but along lower portion of plant at base of flower stems.

Buckwheat tea is good as an anti-inflammatory, and had been used by Native American and Mexican herbalists for centuries. It makes a good eyewash, and Californian Native Americans used it to wash new born babies.

The commercial buckwheat (Fagopyron esculentum) is a distant relative, and I have also heard that the seeds, gathered from the drying flower heads, actually can be milled to create a usable and nutritous flour.

Coast Buckwheat is an important food plant for many of the local butterfly species. Below left, an Acmon Blue (Plebejus acmon acmon). feeds along the Devil's Slide cliffs. Below right, young blooms coming out through the ice plant.

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Rumex acetosella:
Sheep Sorrel

Polygonaceae (Buckwheat Family)

Flowers: Red-Yellow, tiny, in loose terminal racemes.

Blooms: March - August

Leaves: Slim, arrowhead-like dark green fleshy leaves, mostly at stem base.

Fruit/Seeds: ??

Location: Distrubed areas on coast bluffs, along Highway 1 and on San Pedro Point Headlands.

Status: Alien - Invasive.


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 Rumex acetosella
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Note the distinctive racemes of red yellow flowers.

Further description & Comment: 4 - 16 inches tall, sometimes a bit more in protected areas.Flower stems shoot up rapidly - most of the time, the plant is just a collection of the distinctive leaves in a basal mound on ground. The image to the left shows the arrow-shaped leaves.



Rumex crispus:
Curly Dock

Polygonaceae (Buckwheat Family)

Flowers: Tiny, red and green flowers; 6 petals (actually calyx lobes) in a tall, dense inflorescence atop stem.

Blooms: All year.

Leaves: Lower leaves are lance-like with a curly margin.

Fruit/Seeds: Heart-shaped tiny red-brown seeds.

Location: Wetter areas at lower elevations

Status: Alien - Invasive.

Rumex crispus
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Further description & Comment: 2 to 6 feet tall; commonly found along creeks and seep areas, especially where the soils has been disturbed. It is unfortunately much more common that its native relatives R. occidentalis - (Western Dock) and R. salicifolious - (Willow Dock).

The dried roots are used in herbal medicine for treatment of sluggish digestion, malabsorption, steatorrhea or constipation. At least it has some value.


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