The Other Side of Beekeeping
The Other Side of Beekeeping - Buckwheat
Buckwheat, brank, sarrasin, blé noir
Scientific name: Fagopyrum esculentum
Synonyms: Fagopyrum fagopyrum, Fagopyrum sagittatum, Fagopyrum vulgare, Polygonum fagopyrum
Origin: Asia, quite possibly China
Plant description: Buckwheat is an annual, usually 20 to 60cm, (~7.9 to 23.6 in), but occasionally grows to 4 feet (~ 122 cm) tall, and usually consists of a main stem with several branches. The stem ranges from green to red and turns brown with age. The leaves are broadly triangular hastate-ovate1 2 to 8 cm (~0.79 to 3.1 in) long. The inflorescence branches in dense corymbose or paniculate cymes. Inflorescences are both terminal and axillary2, and branch in dense corymbose or paniculate cymes3. Flowering is indeterminate4 thus allowing indefinite elongation of the main floral axis. The flowers are white or pink and 6 mm (~0.24 in) in diameter. The buckwheat flower has no petals, only five petal-like sepals5 which are sometimes referred to as tepals.
The ovary is in the superior position6 and consists of three united carpels7 and is topped with three styles8 which lead to a single ovary with one ovule so that each flower can produce only one seed. There are eight stamens9, four, which turn their anthers inward, the other four, outward. Beyond that, there are basically two types of flowers. Some plants produce flowers with short styles that reach to about halfway up the long filaments; the anthers are then located above the tops of the styles. This form is commonly referred to as throm type. The others have long styles and short filaments so the stigma10 is placed about 2 to 3 mm above the anthers. This form is commonly referred to as the pin type11. The yellowish nectaries lie at the bottom of the flower, positioned between the bases of the stamens, and are interconnected by a cushion-like swelling. It is claimed in both floral forms, the inner whorl of stamens have their anthers situated so they dehisce outwards while the outer whorl of stamens dehisce inwards so that an insect probing for nectar is dusted with pollen on both sides of its body.
Although each plant essentially bears flowers of only one form, the seeds from either form will produce plants that have the two forms in about equal numbers. Without previous selective breeding, generally one form cannot pollinate itself nor the same form that is a neighboring plant. The situation lends itself to cross-pollination.
The different lengths of styles and stamens is a little reminiscent of purple loosestrife, which is in an entirely different family (see this column January 2010).
Flowering in the field may begin 5 to 6 weeks after planting and may continue for 25 to 30 days. The fruit is a smooth and shining brown or black achene12, 5-7 mm (~0.2-0.28 in) long.
Distribution: The importance of buckwheat as an agricultural crop in the United States is today only a shadow of what it once was. In 1918 more than 1 million acres were grown in the US. Over the next 20 years, that diminished to less than half of that and by 1954, only 150,000 acres were harvested, and by 1964 when the USDA crop productions records for buckwheat were discontinued, only 50,000 acres were harvested. In the 2007 Census of Agriculture 24,760 acres were harvested. The largest number of buckwheat farms were located in NY(83), PA (71) and ND (61), but the largest quantities of the crop were harvested in WA (308,700 Bu.), ND (213,800bu) and NY (47,800bu). Buckwheat is almost always produced under contract, partly because of the strong export market. In the 1950s there was some hope by beekeepers that buckwheat might make a comeback because of the discovery that the plant produced the drug Rutin. Judging from the data just cited, that comeback never occurred, perhaps because there were many other plants that also produced the drug and/or perhaps because the drug didn’t live up to expectations.
There are numerous statements in the literature that buckwheat may well be the only plant that can profitably be planted for honey production because there are two products, honey and the edible seed, offsetting the cost of planting. Since the seed is now produced mainly under contract, I have to wonder if this is still a true statement, particularly if the buyer has not been identified before planting.
While buckwheat commonly escapes from cultivation, generally outside of the agricultural field is not long lived.
Oertel from his questionnaires found the species to be of at least some importance in CT, DE, IA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, SC, SD, VA, WA, WI, and WV.
Ayers and Harman from their questionnaires, found the species to be of at least some importance in the United States in AL, DE, KY, MD, ME, MN, NC, ND, NH, NJ, NY, OK, OR, PA, SD, WI, WV with ME reporting particular importance. That represented three states not reported ...