Clay-loving wild buckwheat is a low growing, rounded, densely branched subshrub in the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae). Clay-loving wild buckwheat can be found in bloom from late May to early September.
Clay-loving wild buckwheat is endemic to the rolling clay, adobe, hills and flats immediately adjacent to the communities of Delta and Montrose, Colorado. These white alkaline clay barrens are derived from the Mancos Shale Formation, which is characterized by deposits from an ancient inland sea. These barrens are inhospitable to only but the most adapted species. Species found in association with the clay-loving wild buckwheat include mat saltbrush, black, shadscale and Adobe Hills beardtongue, which is another local endemic. The unique soils that support clay-loving wild buckwheat populations are limited in their distribution. This means that the clay-loving wild buckwheat is also limited in habitat. Clay-loving wild buckwheat was listed as an endangered species in 1984 because of the extremely limited range of its habitat and the high risk of habitat loss. Increasing urban, residential and agricultural development in the region poses to irreversibly alter the habitat they rely on to survive. Additionally, a major indirect effects of habitat conversion is the loss of the diversity of insect pollinators vital to the species’ reproduction. On public lands, off-highway vehicle recreation and grazing can also have significant impacts to the species. These activities can cause direct loss of plants and habitat, as well as indirect negative impacts to the species, including changes in pollinator communities, habitat and hydrology, resulting in fragmentation of populations. More than 50 species of insects, including bees, ants and beetles, have been found to visit clay-loving wild buckwheat. In these barren landscapes where few resources are present, plants like the clay-loving wild buckwheat can be important in sustaining an ecosystem. Much of these populations, 40%, occur on private lands.
Clay-loving wild buckwheat has dark green leaves that roll inward and appear needle-like. Its small white to cream colored flowers with pink veins are are clustered at the end of each branch.
Though it only grows 6 to 8 inches tall, it is known to live for more than 18 years.
Clay-loving wild buckwheat is very long-lived. Flowering typically occurs from late May to early September, with individual flowers lasting fewer than three days. Clay-loving wild buckwheat requires a pollinator, and for much of the flowering season is the most abundant species in bloom in its habitat. More than 50 species of insects visit clay-loving wild buckwheat flowers. Roughly half of these 50 species are native bees, and 18 species are native ants. In one study, seed set was similar between plants that were pollinated by ants versus flying pollinators, suggesting the importance of ants to pollination of the species. Some fruits are removed by harvester ants; however, no information is available for the species on seed dispersal mechanisms.
The Delta/Montrose area is dry, receiving an average of 8 to 9 inches (20 to 23 centimeters) of precipitation a year. The soils where clay-loving wild buckwheat is found are described as whitish and alkaline, those with a pH above 7. These are clay soils of the Mancos shale formation, a Cretaceous marine sediment formation. Mancos shale outcrops are relatively barren of vegetation in comparison to surrounding areas. Several components of the clay soils of the Mancos shale limit plant growth and can be described as fine-textured soil that lose moisture more readily. Another characteristic of clay soils is that they are compactable, which limits gas exchange and thus root growth. Clay soils also hold more water, which is unavailable for plant use and water infiltration is slow through this soil type. The extreme swelling and shrinking of the soils limits water availability and oxygen exchange for plant roots. In addition, the soils are calcareous, meaning that it contains calcium carbonate, with high pH values that make for difficult growing conditions. Clay-loving wild buckwheat plants are generally found within swales or drainages that are moister than surrounding areas. Plant communities associated with clay-loving wild buckwheat are characterized by low species diversity, low productivity and minimal canopy cover. The associated vegetation is sparse, with clay-loving wild buckwheat generally one of the dominant species. In lower elevations near Delta, the dominant plant species is mat saltbrush (Atriplex corrugata), but at higher elevations near Montrose, the dominant plant species is black(Artemesia nova), although mat saltbrush is still abundant. Other associated species include shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia), Gardner’s saltbush (A. gardneri), bud sagebrush (formerly Artemisia spinescens), charming woodyaster (Xylorhiza venusta) and another local endemic Adobe Hills beardtongue (Penstemon retrorsus).
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