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Camassia

camassia_quamashCamassia has been included lately, in family Agavaceae using DNA studies and biochemical techniques. This Camassia bulb puts on a great show, and probably Quamash is from a North American Native language. Camassias are late spring-blooming bulbs that are native to North America.

Kingdom
Plantae
Division
Magnoliophyta
Class
Liliopsida
Order
Asparagales
Family
Agavaceae
Genus
Camassia

The turf-like leaves begin to show themsevles in our garden in March. These slowly reach about 18 inches tall, with flower stems higher, adorned with beautiful blue buds that open into six slender loose petals. Left undisturbed, they are a vigorous grower and will increase freely in damp soil.

Camas grow in the wild in great numbers in moist meadows from Southern British Columbia to Northern California and east to Utah, Wyoming and Montana. The plant has linear basal leaves which emerge early in the spring. It grows to 18-30 inches, with a multi-flowered stem rising above the main plant in summer. The six-petaled flowers vary in color from pale lilac or white to deep purple or blue-violet. They sometimes color whole meadows blue-violet.

Common names include Camas, Wild hyacinth, Indian hyacinth, Quamash. Do not attempt to eat the bulb, as many members of the lily family are not edible.

Facts About Camassia

  • It was first described in 1827 by David Douglas, a few species of Camas had made it to the east coast thence to England for gardeners's delight by the 1850s.
  • The Camassia bulb takes several years to mature.
  • Camassia is a genus that historically used to belong to the lily family (Liliaceae), the Scilloideae family, or the Hyacinthinaceae family.
  • The genus name is Camassia and species name quamash is a redundancy, adapting the Indian name Quamash for genus & species alike. Whites also called it Indian Hyacinth, though most people to this day call it Camas.
  • Agave species are used to make pulque and mescal, while others are valued for their fibers. They are quite popular for xeriscaping, many types having showy flowers.
  • Once a bulb matures, you?ll often see upwards of 75 to 100 star-shaped little flowers on each stem and it makes an excellent cut flower.
  • Native Western Americans relied on Camas for their sustenance and traveled great distances to attain it.
  • The steamed bulbs are very sweet and were sometimes combined with Soapberry (Sheperdia canadensis) to sweeten that fruit. Do take extreme care in tasting Camas as its deadly look-alike, Death Camas (Zigadenus Venenosus), often grows alongside it.

Some Species of Camassia

  • Camassia angusta - Prairie Camas
  • Camassia cusickii - Cusick's Camas (occurs in Eastern Oregon)
  • Camassia howellii - Howell's Camas
  • Camassia leichtlinii - Large Camas, Great Camas (occurs west of the Cascade Mountains from British Columbia to the Sierra Nevada).
  • Cusick's Camas (Camassia cusickii)Enlarge
  • Cusick's Camas (Camassia cusickii)
  • Camassia quamash - Indian Camas, Small Camas.
Popular Varieties include Camassia Cusickii, Camassia leichtlinii, Camassia quamash, Camassia scilloides (Wild Hyacinth).

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Growing Camassia

  • Plant the seeds in a good well-drained moist soil. Camassia is one of the few bulbs that grows happily in moist soils, but plant above the water line so they aren't submerged.
  • Site your bulbs where they will get good light - full day sun in moist areas.
  • Dig holes and plant camassia bulbs 4inches deep and 8-10inches apart. The bulbs are rounded, with small points at the top, identifying the side that should be placed facing up.
  • After planting, water your bulbs well, thoroughly soaking the area. Roots and leaves will form in the autumn. Flowers will develop in the late spring and bloom through early summer.
  • When in bloom feel free to cut flowers for small bouquets. This will not hurt the plants.
  • After flowering has finished for the season leave the foliage in place; don't cut it off. The leaves will gather sunlight and provide nourishment for next year's show. Water as needed.
  • By mid summer the leaves may yellow and die back. The foliage may be removed at this point. Your bulbs will rest for a few months before beginning the next growing cycle.

Camassia Plant Care

  • A well-drained medium with adequate sand or other coarse material to promote drainage and give the medium weight since many of these plants become very top-heavy.
  • The mixes for succulents given above would be good for the members of this family.
  • Water thoroughly but allow the medium to dry between waterings.
  • Remove old, discolored leaves. Remove spent blooms after flowering if seed is not required.

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