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Red Mountain buckwheat
Eriogonum kelloggii

General Information

Official Status: Candidate, the Red Mountain buckwheat is a candidate for federally listing under the Endangered Species Act. Listed as Endangered in California (1982).

Date Candidate Status Approved: Red Mountain buckwheat has been a candidate for federal listing since the original Smithsonian Report on Endangered and Threatened Species of the United States, submitted in 1975; Federal Register  40 FR 27824.  Federal listing for this species has been precluded to date by higher priority listing actions.

Critical Habitat: Critical habitat has not been designated for Red Mountain buckwheat.

Recovery Plan: A Recovery Plan has not been prepared for Red Mountain buckwheat.

Red Mountain buckwheat, Photo Credit: Dave Imper USFWS

Red Mountain buckwheat

Photo Credit: Dave Imper, USFWS

arrow button Photo Gallery for Red Mountain buckwheat

Identifying Characteristics:

Red Mountain buckwheat is a perennial herbaceous member of the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae).  Asa Gray (1870) described this taxon from specimens collected in 1869 by Dr. A. Kellogg from the type locality at Red Mountain, Mendocino County, California.  This perennial herb forms loose spreading mats up to 6 inches tall and 18 inches in diameter.  Leaves are clustered on low stems, with the oblanceolate, silvery-silky (especially below) leaf blades from 1.7 -4 inches long.  Blooms are ball-shaped, composed of several small flowers from 0.25 -0.37 inches in size, and from white to rose in color. The species is generally distinguished within the perennial section of the very large genus Eriogonum, by its flowers which are stalked, glabrous (without hairs), and perfect (both stamens and pistils together).  In addition, Red Mountain buckwheat is the only buckwheat in the vicinity of Red Mountain with foliaceous bracts near the middle of the flowering stem.

Current Geographic Range:

Red Mountain buckwheat is only known from serpentine habitat located on Red Mountain and Little Red Mountain, Mendocino County, California.  Some 50 acres of occupied habitat is spread over about 4 square miles on Red Mountain.  The single known on Little red Mountain is limited to about 900 square feet.   Its estimated proportional ownership is as follows:  Bureau of Land management (BLM) – 69%; State of California – 1%; private – 30%.  Both the Red Mountain and Little Red Mountain sites are quite remote, and require permission from surrounding landowners in order to access the sites. 

Life History:

Little is known about the life history and reproductive ecology of Red Mountain buckwheat.   The low, pincushion form of the plant, and its silvery, pubescent leaves, may be adaptations reducing desiccation and heat stress in summer. The plant dies back to a woody caudex or root crown over winter.  The attractive flowers generally appear from July to August.

General Habitat Characteristics:

Red Mountain buckwheat is referred to as a serpentine endemic, found in rocky flats to steep slopes in lower montane coniferous forests between 1,900 and 4,100 feet in elevation.  Average slope angle is 47%.  Soils are derived from ultramafic rocks, rich in iron and other heavy metals, but generally low in nutrients.  Vegetation generally includes an open tree layer (average 8% cover) including scattered Jeffrey pine, sugar pine, incense cedar, knobcone pine, western white pine or Sargent cypress, and an open shrub layer (average 34% cover) composed of several species of ceanothus and manzanita, huckleberry oak, western azalea, California coffeeberry, dwarf silk tassel, and others.  The herbaceous layer often includes one or more rare or endangered plants such as McDonald’s rockcress, Red Mountain stonecrop, and Red Mountain catchfly, and usually beargrass, serpentine phacelia, falcate onion, western modesty, pussy ears, fescue, or others.

Population and Habitat Status:

The majority of the distribution of Red Mountain buckwheat within the BLM’s Red Mountain Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), and on private lands immediately adjacent to the access road was mapped in 2003, to gather baseline data on the species’ distribution and population, and provide the basis for a more accurate baseline estimate of the population, to be conducted pending available funds and staffing. No accurate distribution maps or current population estimates existed prior to this survey.  A total of 44 polygons were mapped, encompassing a total of less than 50 acres of habitat.  Based on a very limited count of plants within one of the polygons, the data suggested the total population may range between 20,000 to 30,000 plants.  The above estimates of occupied habitat and population do not include potential habitat located on the steep slope above Cedar Creek and on private lands located away from the access roads.  The unsurveyed areas are not expected to contribute more than 10-20 percent to the estimate of total occupied habitat and population.

Red Mountain buckwheat was monitored between 1987 and 2002 by Dr. Michael Baad, retired professor, Sacramento State University.  His study focused on the species life history and site-specific population trends over time. The monitoring involved permanent plots located at three study sites, in which individual plants were periodically mapped, measured, and classified as to reproductive class.  The past monitoring indicated considerable annual variation in plant density and reproduction, but no discernable population trend was evident in two of three study sites.  The third site burned approximately 40 years ago, and knobcone pine is expanding on the site.  Both Red Mountain buckwheat and McDonald’s rockcress are rapidly declining presumably in response to the canopy closure and perhaps other changes as a result of the encroachment, and Baad anticipates both species will eventually be eliminated from the site.  The Service intends to continue this monitoring in some form, in order to detect patterns in vegetation change from fire exclusion. 

In 2003, staff from the USFWS and CDFG relocated what is thought to be the historical site for Red Mountain buckwheat on Little Red Mountain.  The single occurrence documented there included only 50 plants within an area of about 900 square feet.  A search of suitable habitat elsewhere on the mountain found no additional plants.

The primary threat to Red Mountain buckwheat is surface mining for chromium and nickel.  Virtually the entire distribution of the species is owned by mining interests, or is covered by existing mining claims, although none are currently active.  Some 76 mining claims are held within the Red Mountain ACEC, covering the entire area occupied by the Red Mountain buckwheat.  Surface mining would inevitably destroy habitat suitability for this species.   Future mining will depend on the changing economic feasibility and demand for heavy metals.  Although the ACEC was withdrawn from mineral materials sales in 1989, it remains open to entry for locatable or leasable minerals under the 1872 Mining Law.  The designation as an ACEC requires BLM review and approve a plan of operations for all mining activities.  While future mining likely would not impact the entire population, habitat fragmentation can have genetic-related implications, in terms of isolation and declining effective population size.  

Red Mountain buckwheat is also threatened by tree and shrub encroachment into its habitat due to fire exclusion, at least in the long term.   Michael Baad, formerly with Sacramento State University, recognized the threat from vegetation encroachment to at least 3 rare plants known from Red Mountain, including the buckwheat, Red Mountain stonecrop (Sedum eastwoodiae; also a candidate) and McDonald’s rockcress (Arabis macdonaldiana; listed as endangered).  He attributed suppressed reproductive output in Red Mountain buckwheat and McDonald’s rockcress at one site to ongoing conifer invasion following fire about 40 years ago.  The rate at which habitat becomes unsuitable for these species without fire is not known.  In general, habitat located on rocky ridge tops with little woody vegetation will likely be affected at a slower rate than habitat located on deeper soils in more sheltered sites. 

The small population of Red Mountain buckwheat at Little Red Mountain is situated along the edges of an old mining road, and could be easily eliminated by road maintenance or reconstruction.  It is not known if a valid mining claim is held for the Little Red Mountain site.  
Conservation Needs:

BLM designation of 6,895 acres as the Red Mountain ACEC and Research Natural Area in 1984 has helped focused management direction toward conservation of the unique botanical and soils values, old growth forest, raptor habitat and anadromous fishery.  Annual visits are conducted by BLM staff to ensure that no new road construction occurs.   Most of the occupied or suitable habitat for Red Mountain buckwheat in the vicinity of the Red Mountain ACEC was recommended for acquisition in the current Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the area.  The RMP also excludes livestock grazing and offroad vehicle use from the ACEC.

BLM and/or USFWS personnel generally visit the Red Mountain site on an annual basis to conduct a general reconnaissance and assess the status of the species.  Given the remote nature of Red Mountain, the restricted access and current low susceptibility to human impacts, and relatively stable nature of the habitat from an ecological standpoint, the past frequency of monitoring is considered adequate to detect any significant threats, due to unauthorized mining impacts.   However, the monitoring protocol previously employed for life history studies should be assessed to determine its adequacy for representing the variation in Red Mountain buckwheat habitat across Red Mountain, particularly with respect to susceptibility to habitat modification as a result of fire exclusion.  In addition, the methods should be modified to enable characterization of the rate of successional changes, and need for fire in maintaining vegetation in suitable condition. 
Related Documents:
No other documents other than those listed in the general information section above.
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Last updated: April 11, 2011

Arcata Fish and Wildlife Office, 1655 Heindon Road, Arcata, California 95521, USA
Tel: (707) 822.7201 Fax: (707) 822.8411