INFORMATION ABOUT CAMASSIA…
By: Nikki Phipps
Image by Jason Sturner Camassia is a perennial plant that is native to the Pacific Northwest areas of the United States; however, these lovely plants are quite hardy and easy to grow, readily adapting to other areas as well. Camassia is also known as Camas. Most camassia prefer to grow in full sun, but some can thrive in partial shade, especially in moist lowlands. All camassia species can be grown in average garden soil; however, they perform best when placed in well-drained humus soils. Although they enjoy moist soil, camassias can be tolerant of drought, if necessary. The bulbs are usually planted in the fall about 4-5 inches deep with the pointed end of the bulb facing upward.
Generally, camassia plants spread by seed and seedlings can take several years to mature into flowering plants. However, they can produce up to a dozen new plants in just a couple of years. To develop a colony in the garden quicker, dig up the plants in early spring and divide the bulbs. Camassias bloom in late spring, reaching heights of about 2-3 feet. Camassia species are great plant choices for attracting both hummingbirds and butterflies to the garden, providing them with an abundance of sweet nectar, and they also look great planted with perennials, such as bleeding heart, and other flowering bulbs like jonquils and tulips.
With the name derived by its popularity with the Indians, the Indian hyacinth or Indian quamash (C. quamash), was at one time ingested by Indians and considered to be quite a delicacy. The Indians roasted the roots as vegetables or boiled them, producing a sweet, molasses-like treat. This camassia was also once used for medicinal purposes as a birthing aid to induce labor. The flowers of this camassia species range from white to deep blue or purple. Camassia is sometimes called “Black Camas” because the bulb turns black when it is slow cooked.
Cusick’s camas (C. cusickii) has beautiful blue flowers that bloom in spring. This species of camassia can be used in a variety of gardens, from beds and borders to meadows and rock gardens. It also makes an attractive cut-flower specimen. The tall, spiky flowers will also naturalize in moist soils near ponds and streams.
Another species, the wild hyacinth (C. scilloides), has grasslike leaves and flowers that vary from blue to white. This camassia is native to meadows and open woods. The nearly three foot tall spikes of pale blue flowers open slowly over a period of weeks, blooming from the bottom of the stem upwards and is a beautiful sight to behold.
While camassia species are noted as both edible and nutritious, these plants often grow alongside Zygadenus species, which are extremely poisonous and have similar looking bulbs; therefore, it’s extremely important to positively identify them before consumption. One such species is referred to as the death camas (Z. venenous), which is commonly mistaken for camassia and is highly toxic.
Camassia is always an ideal plant to be planted in large quantities in the garden.