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Photo credit: Joseph Arnett, WNHP

Umtanum Desert buckwheat (Eriogonum codium) | ESA status: threatened

Umtanum Desert buckwheat

The Umtanum Desert buckwheat survived the birth of the atomic age, making its home in what is now Hanford Reach National Monument.

Umtanum Desert buckwheat habitat

Umtanum Desert buckwheat occupy about five acres along a string of bluffs in Benton County, Washington. The area, once the Hanford Nuclear Reservation—where the plutonium used to bomb Nagasaki in World War II was created, and, later, the site of a $2 billion per year plan to clean up escaped radioactivity—is now Hanford Reach National Monument.

Umtanum Desert buckwheat lifespan

These plants are slow-growing perennials that form low mats. Individual plants may live more than 100 years, judging from the growth rings in their woody stems.

What are the threats to the Umtanum Desert buckwheat?

Wildfires often burn on the monument, putting the buckwheat between a rock and a hard place. Wildfire is a threat to the species, as it is not heat tolerant. Unfortunately, firefighting activities threaten the plant as well, since they are concentrated on bluffs that form a natural, rocky firebreak, and fire lines and firefighting equipment tend to concentrate in such areas. Highly flammable invasive plants like cheatgrass exacerbate the problem.

Trespassing by off-road vehicles and hikers, enabled in part by inadequate fencing around access roads to Bonneville Power Administration power lines and substations, is hard on these sensitive plants, as they are easily damaged and killed by trampling. The plant is having difficulty replenishing its numbers. It is rare for seedlings to live longer than one year, for reasons that are not yet understood. They have little regulatory protection under state law.

What WildEarth Guardians is doing to preserve the Umtanum Desert buckwheat

The Umtanum Desert buckwheat was included in our 2011 settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2013.

Wildlife Press: Umtanum desert buckwheat