Snow Buckwheat (Niveum)

The Snow Buckwheat (Niveum) is generally described as a perennial subshrub or forb/herb. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer and fall . The Snow Buckwheat (Niveum) has green foliage and inconspicuous white flowers, with a smattering of conspicuous brown fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late summer, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Snow Buckwheat (Niveum) has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a slow growth rate. At maturity, the typical Snow Buckwheat (Niveum) will reach up to 1.5 foot high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 1 foot.

The Snow Buckwheat (Niveum) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have medium vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -23°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Erosion control/reclamation/landscape: Snow buckwheat is a very successful pioneer species (Tiedemann, et al 1997). It tolerates extremely droughty soils and is a common occupant of dry, rocky southern exposures. It is an excellent candidate for stabilizing skeletal soils exposed in road cuts, and mine spoils that lack soil development.

Snow buckwheat grows to 0.5 m (20 in.) in height in most areas but may be as much as 1m tall and 1m wide on better sites. The canopy, while quite short, can effectively protect the soil from erosive winds.

Snow buckwheat is a very useful xeriscaping plant, because it requires very little moisture and does not become weedy. It can be shaped by careful pruning to produce a more formal looking round-full plant. The bloom period is very long and the white flowers take on a pink blush in late fall.

Grazing/rangeland/wildlife: Snow buckwheat has limited domestic livestock grazing value. Sheep will utilize the tips of the flower heads and ignore the rest of the plant. (USDA Forest Service Range Plant Handbook).

Mule deer in north-central Washington are reported to make heavy use of snow buckwheat in the winter and early spring months (Burrell 1982). Bighorn sheep also make heavy use of snow buckwheat, and it decreases in response to bighorn sheep grazing (Wikeem and Pitt 1991). Small birds and mammals use the canopy for cover.

Several species of bees and butterfies utilize snow buckwheat as a foodstuff, including the endangered Mormon Metalmark butterfly (Apodemia mormo) (Royal British Columbia Museum 1995). Ethnobotany: A tea brewed from the roots of snow buckwheat and a related species, Indian tobacco (E. heracleoides) were used by Native Americans as a diarrhea remedy. Boiled roots and stems were used to treat a variety of ailments including cuts, colds, and blood poisoning (Parish et al. 1996). It has been suggested that the Columbia Basin buckwheats were also used to develop dyes by the Native Americans (Sackschewsky and Downs 2001).

General Characteristics

General: Buckwheat Family (Polygonaceae). Snow buckwheat is a deciduous, low growing, evergreen halfshrub.

The crown gives rise to numerous short-woody stems. Leaves attached to the main stems are short and generally oblong. The bottoms of the leaves are gray and very tomentose while the tops are only slightly hairy. The flowering stems are tomentose and as much as 200mm in length. Leaves on the flowering stems are short and narrow. The flower heads may be as long as 200mm and generally ascending. The flowers are white or light pink and turn brown at seed maturity in the fall. The seeds are small and shaped like urns. There are approximately 943,000 seeds/kg (427,000 seeds/pound).

Required Growing Conditions

Hitchcock et al. (1964) described the distribution of snow buckwheat as the east slope of the Cascade Mountains from British Columbia, south to central Oregon, east to west-central Idaho. For current distribution of this species and its relatives, consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Adaptation Cold Hardiness Zone: 5a-7a. Mean Annual Precipitation: 150-460mm (6-18 in.) Elevation: 150-1500m (500-4900 ft.) MLRA: 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 23, 24, and 25 Soil: Well-drained sands to clays

Snow buckwheat is common in big sage (Artemisia tridentata), antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), and open Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) areas. It also occurs in the canyon grasslands of the Snake and Columbia River systems.

It is primarily found in full sun but will grow in partial shade such as open Ponderosa pine hillsides.

Snow buckwheat is common on steep slopes and rocky scabland soils that support little competing vegetation. Its taproot enables it to acquire moisture percolating through the rock cracks. It occurs much less frequently on deep, moist soils. Species often associated with snow buckwheat include the following: big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata - probably wyomingensis, vasciana, and tridentata subspecies), antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis), bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata), sand dropseed (Sporobolus airoides), Snake River wheatgrass (Elymus wawawaiensis), Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda), Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides), and needle-and-thread (Nassella comata).

Cultivation and Care

Seeding: Snow buckwheat should be seeded in late fall (Tiedemann and Driver 1983). Standard reclamation drills and broadcast seeders are capable of handling snow buckwheat seed, however, ensure the seed is kept shallow (max. 6mm deep). Germination in the wild occurs during cool-wet conditions thus allowing the seedlings to develop while moisture is readily available and evaporative rates are low.

Transplanting: Rooted transplants are easily outplanted. The soil should be at least 75% of field capacity when planted. Once fully established, snow buckwheat is long-lived and very persistent.


This is a native species.

General Upkeep and Control

Snow buckwheat is a low maintenance plant once established. Cheatgrass and other winter annuals should be controlled the first year to allow good establishment. Observations have shown that snow buckwheat withstands severe defoliation if the woody stems and crowns are not damaged.

Digging up plants is not advised because it is difficult to extract a large enough portion of the root to support the plant. Also removing plants in the wild severely disturbs the site and leaves it especially prone to weed invasion.

Its tolerance to fire is unknown, however, most Eriogonum species which remain green year round are severely damaged by fire.

Environmental Concerns Snow buckwheat is long-lived, spreading via seed in the wild. It is not considered to be a weedy or invasive species, but can spread into adjoining vegetative communities under ideal climatic and environmental conditions.

Propagation Snow buckwheat seed should be grown in areas where it is native or areas that have long growing seasons. Weeds can be controlled by between-row cultivation. No herbicides are labeled for snow buckwheat seed fields.

Seed is fully ripe when the flowers turn brown. Shattering can be severe at full maturity. Mechanical harvest is possible providing that the cutting bar is set high enough to not damage the crown. Observations have indicated that cutting back the woody stems reduces plant life and reduces seed production the following year.

Seed shelf life can be as short at 12 months if not properly stored. Seed is best stored in cool-dry conditions.

Plants are easy to produce for out-planting. Seed should be planted in mid-winter and allow for at least 10 weeks growth before hardening. Avoid potting media that does not drain well, and do not over-water.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Slow
General Type Subshrub, Forb/herb
Growth Period Spring, Summer, Fall
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Long
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Summer
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Colonizing
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Intermediate
Height When Mature 1.5
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color White
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance Low
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements Low
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -23
Soil Depth for Roots 12
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6.5–8 pH
Precipitation Range 6–6 inches/yr
Planting Density 2700–7000 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 12
Minimum Frost-Free Days 120 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance High
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability High
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA