Native Plant of the Month: Common Camas

Picture of Common Camas.

Common Name: Common Camas / Small Camas

Binomial Name: Camassia quamash

Soil Type: Well-Drained, Rich in Humus

Sunlight: Light Shade to Full Sun

Form/Growth: Small, Flowering Plant, Often Grown in Groups

Plant Type: Ornamental Bulb

Foliage: Perennial Herb

Flowering: Yes

This small but quite beautiful bulb plant pops up in large clusters starting in early spring. The light to deep blue star-shaped flowers and grass-like leaves make this native a popular choice in gardens. In the wild, camas spreads by seed rather than runners and can cover an entire meadow with its striking violet-blue.

Common camas has long been an important asset to the Pacific Northwest; Native American tribes used it frequently as a food source, and it even contributed to the survival of members on the Lewis and Clark expedition. After the flowers wither in autumn, the bulbs can be pit-roasted or boiled. A pit-roasted camas bulb looks and tastes something like a baked sweet potato. But be careful! While camas is edible and nutritious, it occasionally grows with species of Toxicoscordion which have similar bulbs but are extremely poisonous.

In addition to being used ornamentally and as a food source, this native is also wonderful for attracting wildlife. Deer, elk, and moose all graze through camas fields. Ground-dwellers such as gophers eat the bulbs, and herbivorous insects eat the leaves.