Camassia is a genus of plants in the asparagus family native to Canada and the United States. Common names include camas, quamash, Indian hyacinth, camash, and wild hyacinth.

It grows in the wild in great numbers in moist meadows. They are perennial plants with basal linear leaves measuring 8 to 32 inches (20 to 81 cm) in length, which emerge early in the spring. They grow to a height of 12 to 50 inches (30 to 127 cm), 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. Camas can appear to color entire meadows when in flower.

Camassia quamash 6374
Indian camas (Camassia quamash)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Asparagaceae
Subfamily: Agavoideae
Genus: Camassia
Type species
Camassia quamash
(Pursh) Greene
Camassia cusickii3
Cusick's camas (Camassia cusickii)
Camassia quamash at Leavenworth Ski Hill
Common camas (Camassia quamash ssp. quamash)

Cultivation and uses

Camassia species were an important food staple for Indigenous peoples and settlers in parts of the American Old West. Many areas in the Pacific Northwest are named for the plant, including Camas Valley, Oregon; the city of Camas, Washington; Lacamas Creek in southern Washington,;[2] the Camas Prairie in northern Idaho (and its Camas Prairie Railroad); and Camas County in southern Idaho.[3] Kamas, Utah, is another.

Indigenous methods of cultivation

Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest engaged in the active management and cultivation of Blue Camas. Controlled burning was employed to clear land and improve growing conditions for Blue Camas. While Camas plots occurred naturally in the Pacific Northwest, Indigenous peoples would maintain a plot through the planting and harvesting of Camas bulbs, as well as by tilling and weeding. Camas plots were harvested by individuals or kin-groups, who were recognized as a particular plot’s cultivators or stewards.[4][5][6] Stewardship was typically lineage-based, and cultivation rights to a particular plot were fiercely guarded. Multiple generations would often harvest the same Camas plot. Plots have been recorded as possessing physical boundary markers, and there were social consequences for harvesting from a plot that was recognized as being maintained by a particular individual or kin-group.[5][6] The camas bulbs were harvested with a pointed wooden tool, with the work of cultivation being done primarily by women.[7]

Food use

While Camassia species are edible and nutritious, the white-flowered deathcamas species (which are not in the genus Camassia but in a number of genera in the tribe Melanthieae) that grow in the same areas are toxic, and the bulbs are quite similar in appearance. It is easiest to tell the plants apart when they are in flower.

The quamash was a food source for many indigenous peoples in the western United States and Canada. Blue Camas was harvested when in bloom, in spring or early summer.[8] After being harvested the bulbs were pit-roasted or boiled. A pit-cooked camas bulb looks and tastes something like baked sweet potato, but sweeter, and with more crystalline fibers due to the presence of inulin in the bulbs. The eating of too many such baked bulbs - especially if undercooked - can cause excessive flatulence, due to their containing inulin and other oligosaccharides.[9][10] When dried, the bulbs could be pounded into flour. Native American peoples who ate camas include the Nez Perce (Nimíipuu), Cree, Coast Salish, Kalapuya, and Blackfoot, and Yakama among many others. The Kutenai called the camas "xapi" (Ktunaxa).[11] Camas bulbs contributed to the survival of members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.[12]

In the Great Basin, expanded settlement by whites accompanied by turning cattle and hogs onto camas prairies greatly diminished food available to native tribes and increased tension between Native Americans and settlers and travelers.[13] Though the once-immense spreads of camas lands have diminished because of modern developments and agriculture, numerous camas prairies and marshes may still be seen today.

Ornamental use

This bulbflower naturalizes well in gardens. The bulb grows best in well-drained soil high in humus. It will grow in lightly shaded forest areas and on rocky outcrops as well as in open meadows or prairies. Additionally it is found growing alongside streams and rivers. The plants may be divided in autumn after the leaves have withered. Bulbs should be planted in the autumn. Additionally the plant spreads by seed rather than by runners.

Role in indigenous trade and culture

Camas was an important component of the diets of most indigenous groups located in the Pacific Northwest. However, not all indigenous groups harvested Camas themselves. Instead, many relied on trade in order to procure it. Indigenous groups that lived in environments that suited camas production, such as the Coast Salish, developed networks of exchange in order to procure a variety of goods and foods, such as cedar bark baskets and dried halibut.[14]

In North American Indigenous cultures, trade had economic as well as diplomatic functions, with ceremonies such as the potlatch serving as a means to legitimize an individual’s rule and establish their status as a provider.[15] Camas was frequently traded in large volumes for such occasions.[16]

Theories of anthropogenic dispersal

As indigenous land-management techniques have been theorized as having had a significant impact on the maintenance of the Garry oak ecosystem,[17] one of the primary ecosystems in which Camassia quamash grows, researchers have investigated the potentiality of anthropogenic transport through an investigation of the genetic structure of Camassia quamash.[8] Despite historical evidence for anthropogenic maintenance of Camas plots and transportation through Indigenous trade networks,[14] analysis of the genetic structures of Camassia quamash have not substantiated theories of anthropogenic dispersal. The distribution of Camassia quamash across the Pacific Northwest is most likely the result of postglacial migration. These results imply that the degree of anthropogenic dispersal of Camassia quamash that occurred was not of such a scale as to leave a marker in the plant’s genetic structure.[8]

Taxonomy and species

Historically, the genus was placed in the lily family (Liliaceae), when this was very broadly defined to include most lilioid monocots.[18] When the Liliaceae was split, in some treatments Camassia was placed in a family called Hyacinthaceae (now the subfamily Scilloideae).[19] DNA and biochemical studies have led the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group to reassign Camassia to the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Agavoideae.[20]


The World Checklist of Selected Plant Families recognizes six species as of April 2015:[1][21][22]

formerly included[1]

The name Camassia biflora was coined in 1969[23] for a South American species now known as Oziroe biflora.[24]


The term Camassia esculenta is a confusing one. Not an accepted name, it has been used twice, both for Camassia quamash and for Camassia scilloides. Consequently, the reference to Camassia esculenta (Ker Gawl.) B.L.Rob.[25] as a synonym for C. scilloides is deemed illegitimate,[26] while reference to Camassia esculenta (Nutt.) Lindl.[27] is a non-accepted name (synonym) for C. quamash subsp. quamash.[28] Hence the continuing horticultural usage without qualification is potentially confusing.[29]


  1. ^ a b c World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, retrieved 2015-04-10
  2. ^ Majors, Harry M. (1975). Exploring Washington. Van Winkle Publishing Co. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-918664-00-6.
  3. ^ - Camas County Archived November 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine - accessed 2009-06-06
  4. ^ Lepofsky, Dana; Lyons, Natasha (Autumn 2013). "The Secret Past Life of Plants: Paleoethnobotany in British Columbia". BC Studies. 179: 39–72 – via ProQuest.
  5. ^ a b Kuhnlein, Harriet V., Turner, Nancy J. (1991). Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian indigenous Peoples: Nutrition, Botany and Use. Philadelphia: Gordon and Breach. p. 12. ISBN 2881244653.
  6. ^ a b Turner, Nancy J. (Autumn 2013). "Plant Management Systems of British-Columbia's First Peoples". BC Studies. 179: 106–256 – via ProQuest.
  7. ^ Brown, R (1868). "On the Vegetable Products, used by the North-West American Indians as Food and Medecine, in the Arts, and in Superstitious Rites". Transactions of the Botanical Society. 9: 378–396.
  8. ^ a b c Tomimatsu, Hiroshi, Kephart, Susan R., Velland, Mark. "Phylogeography of Camassia quamash in western North America: postglacial colonization and transport by indigenous peoples". Molecular Ecology. 18: 3918–3928 – via Wiley Online Library.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "FirstVoices- Ktunaxa. Plants: food plants: words". Retrieved 2012-07-07.
  12. ^ Hunter, Frances. Nearly all the men Sick: Lewis and Clark meet the Camas Root" in Frances Hunter's American Heroes Blog. [1] Accessed 2016/3/24
  13. ^ The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre, Brigham D. Madsen, forward by Charles S. Peterson, University of Utah Press (1985, paperback 1995), trade paperback, 286 pages, ISBN 0-87480-494-9
  14. ^ a b Turner, Nancy J., Loewen, Dawn C. (1998). "The Original "Free Trade": Exchange of Botanical Products and Associated Plant Knowledge in Northwestern North America". Anthropologica. 40: 49–70 – via ProQuest.
  15. ^ Springer, Chris, Lepofsky Dana, Blake, Micheal (2018). "Obsidian in the Salish Sea: An Archaeological Examination of Ancestral Coast Salish Social Networks in SW British Columbia and NW Washington State". Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 51: 45–66 – via Science Direct.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ Kuhnlein, Harriet V., Turner, Nancy J. (1991). Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples: Nutrition, Botany and Use. Philadelphia: Gordon and Breach. p. 13. ISBN 2881244653.
  17. ^ Macdougall, Andrew S., Beckwith, Brenda R., Maslovat, Carrina Y. (Spring 2004). "Defining Conservation Strategies with Historical Perspectives: A Case Study from a Degraded Oak Grassland Ecosystem". Conservation Biology. 18 (2): 455–465 – via JSTOR.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  18. ^ Ranker, Tom A. & Hogan, Tim, Camassia, retrieved 2012-05-16, in Flora of North America Editorial Committee, ed. (1982), Flora of North America (online),
  19. ^ Fernandez, A. & Daviña, J.R. (1991), "Heterochromatin and Genome Size in Fortunatia and Camassia (Hyacinthaceae)", Kew Bulletin, 46 (2): 307–316, doi:10.2307/4110602, JSTOR 4110602
  20. ^ Stevens, P.F., Angiosperm Phylogeny Website: Asparagales: Agavoideae
  21. ^ The Plant List
  22. ^ Biota of North America Progran 2013 county distribution maps
  23. ^ Cocucci, Alfredo Elio. 1969. Kurtziana 5: 184
  24. ^ Speta, Franz. 1998. Phyton. Annales Rei Botanicae 38: 56
  25. ^ Rhodora 10: 31 (1908)
  26. ^ World Checklist of Selected Plant Families: Camassia esculenta (Ker Gawl.) B.L.Rob.
  27. ^ Edwards's Bot. Reg. 18: t. 1486 (1832)
  28. ^ World Checklist of Selected Plant Families: Camassia esculenta (Nutt.) Lindl.
  29. ^ Dig Drop Done

Further reading

Brisland, Richard T. W. Camas processing or upland hunting : an interpretation of lithic scatters at High Prairie. Calgary, Alb.: University of Calgary, 1992. Thesis (M.A.)
Comber, Harold F.; Miller, Murray. Check list of the plants of the Camassia Natural Area : vascular plants. [Oregon]: Oregon Chapter, The Nature Conservancy, 1967
Coville, Frederick V. (1897). The technical name of the camas plant. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 11: 61-65.
Gould, Frank W. A systematic treatment of the genus Camassia Lindl. Notre Dame, Ind.: University Press, 1942.
Konlande, J. E.; Robson, John R. (1972). The nutritive value of cooked camas as consumed by Flathead Indians. Ecology of food and nutrition 2: 193-195.
Maclay, Anne M. Studies of the life history of Camassia quamash (Pursh) Greene. Pullman, Wash., State College of Washington (Washington State University), 1928. Thesis (M.S.)
Rice, Peter M.; Toney, J. Chris.; Cross, Marcia Pablo. Rehabilitation of camas and bitterroot gathering sites: study plan. [Hamilton, Mont: Bitterroot National Forest: U.S. Forest Service], 1996.
Smith, Harriet L. Camas: the plant that caused wars. Lake Oswego, Or.: Smith, Smith and Smith Pub. Co., 1978.
Stevens, Michelle L. and Darris, Dale C. Plant Guide for Common Camas: Ethnobotany, Culture, Management, and Use. Plant Materials Technical Note No. 25. (June 16, 2000) U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, Portland, Oregon, 2000.
Stevens, Michelle L. and Darris, Dale C. Ethnobotany, Culture and Use of Great Camas (Camassia quamash ssp. quamash). Plant Materials Technical Note No. 23 (September 1999). U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, Portland, Oregon, 1999
Storm, Linda. Patterns and Processes of Indigenous Burning 2000
Statham, Dawn Stram. Camas and the Northern Shoshoni: a biogeographic and socioeconomic analysis. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 1982.
Thoms, Alston V. The northern roots of hunter-gatherer intensification: camas and the Pacific Northwest. Pullman, Wash.: Thesis (Ph. D.)--Washington State University, 1989.
Toney, J. Chris. Traditional plant restoration: restoration of camas & bitterroot gathering sites (phase I-year 1 progress report). [Hamilton, Mont: Bitterroot National Forest: U.S. Forest Service], 1997

External links


Asparagaceae is a family of flowering plants, placed in the order Asparagales of the monocots. Its best known member is Asparagus officinalis, garden asparagus.


Camas may refer to:

Camas, Seville, Spain

Camas, Idaho, United States

Camas, Montana, United States

Camas, Washington, United States

Camas County, Idaho, United States

Camas prairie, several areas in the western United States

Camas Tuath, a bay on the Isle of Mull, UK

Camas (magazine), a literary periodical

Camassia, a plant genus

Camas County, Idaho

Camas County is a county in the southern portion of the U.S. state of Idaho. The county seat and largest city is Fairfield. The county was created 102 years ago in 1917 by the state legislature with a partition of Blaine County on February 6. It is named for the camas root, or Camassia, a lily-like plant with an edible bulb found in the region, that Native Americans and settlers used as a food source. As of the 2010 census, the population was 1,117, making it the second-least populous county in the state (trading places with Clark County).

Camas County is part of the Hailey, ID Micropolitan Statistical Area.

Camas Valley, Oregon

Camas Valley is an unincorporated community in Douglas County, Oregon, United States, in the valley of the same name. It is on Oregon Route 42, near the Middle Fork Coquille River.

The name of the valley and the community come from the abundance of Camassia growing in the area; it was an important food source for the local Native Americans. Camas Valley post office was established in July 1870; it has a ZIP code of 97416.

Camas prairie

The name camas prairie refers to several distinct geographical areas in the western United States which were named for the native perennial camassia or camas, including regions in the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. Camas bulbs were an important food source for Native Americans.

Camassia cusickii

Camassia cusickii, common name Cussick's camas, is a species of plant in the Asparagaceae family (subfamily Agavoideae). It is native to parts of North America. C. cusickii originally appeared in horticultural journals in the late 1800s, but they been sold and cultivated for about thirty years. This plant family is not studied intensely. Seven or eight species exist in the wild, however, only three are talked about and cultivated.

Camassia esculenta

The botanical name Camassia esculenta is a non-accepted name that may refer to two separate species of the genus Camassia;

Camassia quamash subsp. quamash, synonym Camassia esculenta (Nutt.) Lindl.

Camassia scilloides, synonym Camassia esculenta (Ker Gawl.) B.L.Rob., (nom. illeg.)

Camassia howellii

Camassia howellii, commonly known as Howell's camas, is a species of perennials endemic to western Oregon.Discovered in 1889, Camassia howellii is now considered to be imperiled due to residential development, mining and grazing.

Camassia leichtlinii

Camassia leichtlinii, commonly known as great camas or large camas, is a perennial herb. It is native to western North America in British Columbia in Canada and the United States, in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Camassia quamash

Camassia quamash, commonly known as camas, small camas, common camas, common camash or quamash, is a perennial herb. It is native to western North America in large areas of southern Canada and the northwestern United States, from British Columbia and Alberta to California and east from Washington state to Montana and Wyoming.

Camassia scilloides

Camassia scilloides is a perennial herb known commonly as Atlantic camas, wild hyacinth, and eastern camas. It is native to the eastern half of North America, including Ontario and the eastern United States.It produces inflorescences up to half a meter tall from a bulb 1 to 3 centimeters wide. It has a few leaves each up to 60 centimeters long. The flowers have light blue or whitish tepals and yellow anthers. The green or brown capsule is up to a centimeter long.Native American groups used the bulbs for food, eating them raw, baked, roasted, boiled, or dried.

Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Plateau

Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Plateau, also referred to by the phrase Indigenous peoples of the Plateau, and historically called the Plateau Indians (though comprising many groups) are indigenous peoples of the Interior of British Columbia, Canada, and the non-coastal regions of the United States Pacific Northwest states.

Their territories are located in the inland portions of the basins of the Columbia and Fraser Rivers. These tribes mainly live in parts of the Central and Southern Interior of British Columbia, northern Idaho, western Montana, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and northeastern California. The eastern flank of the Cascade Range lies within the territory of the Plateau peoples.

Kamas, Utah

Kamas ( KAM-əs) is a city in southwestern Summit County, Utah, United States. It is part of the Salt Lake City, Utah Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 1,274 at the 2000 census.

The main industries are cattle ranching and lumber. The town is known to outsiders as "The Gateway to the Uintas" and is located 42 miles (68 km) east of downtown Salt Lake City. Fishing, camping, hiking, mountain climbing and other outdoor recreational activities are popular among locals. Kamas is the closest city to the Camp Steiner Boy Scout camp.

List of Canadian plants by family L

Main page: List of Canadian plants by family


A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I J K | L | M | N | O | P Q | R | S | T | U V W | X Y Z

List of vegetables

This is a list of plants that have a culinary role as vegetables. "Vegetable" can be used in several senses, including culinary, botanical and legal. This list includes botanical fruits such as pumpkins, and does not include herbs, spices, cereals and most culinary fruits and culinary nuts. Edible fungi are not included in this list.

Legal vegetables are defined for regulatory, tax and other purposes. An example would include the tomato, which is a botanical berry, but a culinary vegetable according to the United States.

Margaret Owen (plantswoman)

Margaret McAllister Owen (née Mackay; 27 November 1930 – 24 October 2014) was a British farmer, gardener and heritage activist.

Max Leichtlin

Maximilian Leichtlin (20 October 1831, Karlsruhe – 3 September 1910, Baden-Baden) was a German horticulturalist.

From 1846 he worked as a gardener at several sites in Europe, then spent several years engaged in travels. After returning from South America in 1856, he worked for two years at the Van Houtte nursery in Ghent. He then spent the next sixteen years working with his brothers in a paper manufacturing business. Afterwards, he relocated to Baden-Baden, where he founded a botanical garden. He specialized in the cultivation and propagation of bulbous plants (lilies, tulips, irises and alliums).Botanical taxa with the specific epithet of leichtlinii commemorate his name, two examples being, Camassia leichtlinii (great camas) and Calochortus leichtlinii (Leichtlin's mariposa).

Scatter Creek Unit

The Scatter Creek Unit is a 915-acre protected area and wildlife reserve in southern Thurston County, Washington, USA It is located just north of Grand Mound, Washington and east of Rochester, Washington. The site is owned and managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and is one of five units that comprise the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area. The site is split into two sections, the North site and the South site. The area is the site of a former homestead.The Scatter Creek Unit is home to one of the few remaining sections of south Puget Sound prairie. Garry oaks (Quercus garryana) can be found growing in riparian areas, along with Oregon ash (Fraxinus latifolia). In the forested hills on the north side of the reserve, conifers such as Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) predominate.

Mima mounds can be found at both the North and South site.

West Linn, Oregon

West Linn is a city in Clackamas County, Oregon, United States. An affluent southern suburb within the Portland metropolitan area, West Linn has a history of early development, prompted by the opportunity to harvest energy from nearby Willamette Falls. It was named after U.S. Senator Lewis F. Linn of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, who had advocated the American occupation of Oregon as a counterclaim to the British. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 25,109.

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