CAMASSIA - CAMAS


Perennial herb; bulb 1 [or clustered (each bulb has 1 leaf-cluster, 1 scape, or both, so no need to dig up bulbs to make this determination)], coat black or brown.
Leaf: basal, linear, keeled, glabrous.
Inflorescence: scapose raceme; flowers 3–many; bracts 1–6 cm, narrow-lanceolate, scarious in age; pedicels 1–5 cm, spreading or incurved in fruit.
Flower: ± radial (or bilateral); perianth parts 6, in 2 petal-like whorls, fused < 5% of length, 12–40 mm, lanceolate, blue to ± purple (white), 3–9 veined, twisted together above ovary in fruit [or not]; stamens 6, anthers generally 4–7 mm, attached at middle; ovary chambers 3.
Fruit: loculicidal.
Seed: 6–36, black.
n=15.
± 6 species, 4 in northwestern North America. (chamass, qám'es, or quamash, Native American word) [Uyeda & Kephart 2006 Syst Bot 31:643–655] California species highly variable, may hybridize, in need of study; bulbs traded among, eaten by Native Americans, perhaps creating local forms.
[Jepson2012]


KEY TO CAMASSIA
1. Tepals (petal-like segments) twisted together around ovaries after flower wither; flowers more or less radially symmetric; fruiting stalks longer than the bracts............... Camassia leichtlinii ssp suksdorfii
1. Tepals spreading apart, not twisted together around ovaries after flowers wither; flowers weakly bilaterally symmetric; with 5 tepals curving upward and 1 pointing downward; fruiting stalks shorter than the bracts.............Camassia quamash


Local Species;

  1. Camassia leichtlinii ssp suksdorfii - great camas [E-flora][PCBC][TSFTK]
  2. Camassia quamash - Common camas [TSFTK][PCBC][E-flora] & ssp maxima [E-flora]

Species Mentioned: Blue Camas (or Camass) (including Common Camas,Camassia quamash,and Great, or Leichtlin's Camas,C. leichtlinii [Turner, Kuhnlein]


Hazards

Poisonous Lookalike 

Death camas (Zigadenus venenosus), a bulb-bearing plant also in the lily family, often grows in the same habitat as the edible blue camas species, especially on southern Vancouver Island. The flowers are different, being cream-colored and in more compact heads, but the bulbs are very similar, and are highly toxic and potentially fatal. Anyone wishing to eat blue camas bulbs should be extremely careful not to confuse them with those of death camas. [Turner, Kuhnlein]


Edible Uses

Bulbs:They were a staple food of the Coast Salish. [Turner, Kuhnlein]
Harvesting: The bulbs were usually dug after flowering, in summer, although some peoples dug them in spring. The bulbs were dug with a pointed digging stick; only the larger ones were taken, and the smaller ones were left to grow. [Turner, Kuhnlein]
Preparation: The bulbs almost always pit-cooked, usually for 24 hours or more. The Blackfoot left them in the pit with a fire burning overtop for up to 70 hours. Because most of their carbohydrate is in the form of a long-chain sugar, inulin, which is not very digestible, nor very palatable, long term cooking was necessary to chemically break down the inulin into its component fructose molecules. Fructose, a common sugar of fruit and honey, is both easily digested and sweet tasting. Thus, whereasthe raw bulbs are barely usable for human food, the properly cooked bulbs are markedly sweet tasting, and much more digestible. [Turner, Kuhnlein]
The cooked bulbs could be served right away or sun-dried for storage or trade. The cooked bulbs were described as "something like a prune and a chestnut". The bulbs were often served with oil; for example, the Nuu-chah-nulth (Westcoast) people served them with whale or seal oil, and, in more recent times, with corn oil. Sometimes the bulbs were flattened or broken into pieces before drying. The dried bulbs were reconstituted by soaking in water or by cooking in soups and stews with meat or fish. [Turner, Kuhnlein]


Camassia leichtlinii (Baker) S. Wats. and C. quamash (Pursh) Greene (Blue Camas)
Chinook jargon/lecamas/ (Ch68) Camas was the most important vegetable food used by the Vancouver Island Salish. It was abundant and easy to gather. It was virtually the only extensive source of starch in a diet which was mainly fish and meat, and was as important to the Indians as the potato is to white people. Most of the camas used by the Island Salish was gathered from coastal bluffs or, particularly after the coming of the white man, from small off-shore islands. The Songish used to dig their bulbs from the grasslands of Beacon Hill Park, and the Saanich dug theirs from many of the smaller Gulf Islands, such as Mandarte and Arbutus Islands (Suttles, 1951). Areas over rock were usually preferred because the bulbs were not very deep. The bulb beds were generally divided into family plots, which were passed down from generation to generation. These plots, although not actually farmed, were cleared of stones, weeds, and brush from year to year.
Neither of these species grows in the territory of the Kwakiutl (Taylor, 1966), but the bulbs were apparently obtained by trade from the Coast Salish Indians of the Comox-Courtenay area, where they were a staple food (Turner & Bell, 1971). The Kwakiutl probably cooked them in the same way as their Coast Salish neighbours, by steaming them in pits. Boas (1921) stated that the name, mfit'exsdi, was somehow related to that of Abies grandis.[Turner&Bell]


Cultivation
Extensive patches of camas on southern Vancouver Island and the offshore islands were maintained by burning and clearing of brush. [Turner, Kuhnlein]


References


Common Camas

[IFBC-E-flora]

[E-flora]

 

Identification

Introduction "This gorgeous true blue BC native has starry lily-like flowers on slender stems in spring from a tuft of grass-like foliage. This species was an important food crop of the First Nations cultures that lived in and around the southern coastal parts of our province. Garry oak meadows and rock outcrops. Coastal mountain forests and wet meadows inland. Marshy meadows in coniferous forest to 2300m." - Gary Lewis, Phoenix Perennials [E-flora]

General: "Perennial herb from a deep, egg-shaped bulb 2-4 cm long; flowering stems 20-70 cm tall, smooth." [IFBC-E-flora]
Leaves: "Basal leaves several to numerous, linear-lanceolate and grass-like, to 50 cm long, 1-3 cm wide, smooth, sheathing at the base, the margins entire; stem leaves lacking." [IFBC-E-flora]
Flowers: "Inflorescence a terminal raceme of 5 to many, stalked flowers, the stalks 1-2 cm long, spreading in flower, ascending to erect in fruit; flowers pale to deep blue, rarely white, weakly bilaterally symmetric, of 6 similar, distinct tepals, the tepals 15-40 mm long, 2-8 mm wide; stamens 6, anthers yellow to violet; pistil 1, 3-chambered." [IFBC-E-flora]
Fruits: "Capsules, egg-shaped to oblong, cross-ridged, 1-2.5 cm long; fruiting stalks shorter than the bracts, ascending to erect, curved in towards stem; seeds several to many, shiny black, 2-4 mm long." [IFBC-E-flora]
Habitat / Range
"Mesic to vernally moist meadows and grasslands in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; locally frequent on SE Vancouver Island (ssp. azurea rare in peatlands on W Vancouver Island), the Gulf Islands and SE BC; E to AB and S to MT, ID and WA." [IFBC-E-flora]

Notes:
Two subspecies are known from BC:
1. Tepals 3- to 5-veined, mostly less than 6 mm wide, usually less than 30 mm long; stalks appressed in fruit; plants from the dry interior........................ ssp. quamash
1. Tepals 5- to 9-veined, mostly more than 6 mm wide, usually more than 30 mm long; stalks ascending to somewhat spreading in fruit; plants from the coast....................... ssp. maxima Gould [IFBC-E-flora]

Ecological Indicator Information
"Shade-intolerant, submontane to montane, Western North American forb distributed more in the Pacific than the Cordilleran region. Species occurs in maritime to submaritime summer-dry cool mesothermal climates on moderately dry to fresh, nitrogen­rich soils (Moder and Mull humus forms). Scattered to plentiful in open-canopy Garry oak stands on water-shedding sites; occurrence decreases with increasing elevation and precipitation. Also inhabits meadow­like communities where early spring moisture is followed by mid-summer drought; occasionally found around vernal pools, springs, and intermittent streams." [IPBC][E-flora]

USDA Flower Colour: Blue
USDA Blooming Period: Mid Spring
USDA Fruit/Seed characteristics:

Colour: Brown
Present over the Spring [USDA-E-flora]

Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses


Common CamasCamassia quamash [Turner, Kuhnlein]

Part:BulbsPer 100 g fresh weight
Food Energy (Kcal)61Ash (g)0.8Potassium (mg)-
Water (g)83Thiamine (mg)0.07Magnesium (mg)8.6
Protein (g)0.9Riboflavin (mg)0.05Calcium (mg)17
Fat (g)0.1Niacin (mg)-Phosphorus (mg)45
Carbohydrate (g)14.8Vitamin C (mg)4Sodium (mg)-
Crude Fiber (g)0.5Vitamin A (RE)-Iron (mg)1.6
Zinc (mg)0.5Manganese (mg)0.3Copper (mg)0.1

Cultivation

"Succeeds in almost any soil[42]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers a rather heavy loam[1] that has plenty of moisture in spring but does not remain wet over the winter[138, 200]. Dislikes dry soils[200]. Prefers full sun but tolerates partial shade[138, 200]. The dormant bulbs are very hardy and will withstand soil temperatures down to at least -10°c[214]. Quamash is a very pretty flowering bulb that has quite a large potential as an edible ornamental plant[K]. It grows very well in the flower border but can also be naturalised in damp grass[134]. We are intending to grow it in a grassed-down orchard in our Cornish trial ground. The bulbs flower in late spring and early summer and have completely died down by early July so they do not interfere with harvesting the apple crop. The grass in the orchard will be cut in early spring before the quamash comes into growth, but will not be cut again until July. The bulbs will be harvested at any time from July to December and, since it is impossible to find all the bulbs, it is hoped that those remaining will be able to increase and supply bulbs for future years[K]. A polymorphic and very ornamental plant[1], there are some named varieties[200]. The subspecies C. quamash maxima has larger bulbs than the type, up to 65mm in diameter[270]. A good bee plant[108]. This species can be confused with certain poisonous bulbs in the genus Zigadenus[85]. Plant the bulbs 7 - 10cm deep in early autumn and then leave undisturbed[1]." [PFAF]

Propagation

"Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame[134]. The seed can also be sown in a cold frame in spring[134]. It usually germinates in 1 - 6 months at 15°c, but it can be erratic[138]. Sow the seed thinly so that it does not need to be thinned and allow the seedlings to grow on undisturbed for their first year. Give an occasional liquid feed to ensure that the plants do not become nutrient deficient. When the plants are dormant in late summer, pot up the small bulbs putting 2 - 3 bulbs in each pot. Grow them on for another one or two years in a cold frame before planting them out when dormant in late summer. Offsets in late summer. The bulb has to be scored in order to produce offsets." [PFAF]


References

  1. E-flora - http://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Camassia%20quamash&redblue=Both&lifeform=7, Acccessed March 31, 2015
  2. PFAF - http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Camassia+quamash, Accessed March 30, 2015

Great Camas - Camassia leichtlinii

Asparagaceae (Previously in Liliaceae)

[IFBC-E-flora]

Status: Native [E-flora]

Habitat / Range Vernally moist meadows in the lowland zone; locally frequent on SE Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, one report also from adjacent mainland (Sechelt Peninsula); S to CA. [IFBC-E-flora]

[E-flora]2013

Introduction
Elegant spires covered with masses of star-shaped purple-blue flowers with glittering yellow anthers. This is a larger species than C. quamash.
Native from BC to southern California. Meadows, prairies and hillsides that are moist, at least in early spring.^[E-flora]^'


Identification
Camassia leichtlinii is a BULB growing to 1 m (3ft 3in) by 0.2 m (0ft 8in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 3 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf 8-Mar It is in flower from Jun to July, and the seeds ripen in July. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.[PFAF]
General: Perennial herb from a deep, egg-shaped bulb 2-4 cm long; flowering stems 20-100 cm tall, smooth. [IFBC-E-flora]
Leaves: Basal leaves several to numerous, linear-lanceolate and grass-like, to 60 cm long, 1-2 cm wide, smooth, sheathing at the base, the margins entire; stem leaves lacking. [IFBC-E-flora]
Flowers: Inflorescence a terminal raceme of 5 to many, stalked flowers, the stalks 1-4 cm long, spreading in flower, spreading to ascending in fruit; flowers pale to deep blue, rarely white, of 6 similar, distinct tepals, the tepals 20-40 mm long, 5-10 mm wide, twisting together over the ovaries when withered; stamens 6; pistil 1, 3-chambered. [IFBC-E-flora]
Fruits: Capsules, egg-shaped to oblong, cross-ridged, 1-2.5 cm long; fruiting stalks often longer than bracts, spreading to ascending, curved in towards stem; seeds several to many, shiny black, 2-4 mm long. [IFBC-E-flora]


Edible Uses

Root 

C. leichtlinii; raw or cooked[94, 105, 177]. The bulb is about 3cm in diameter[270], eaten raw it has a mild, starchy flavour, but a gummy texture that reduces the enjoyment of it somewhat[K]. It is excellent when slow baked, however, developing a sweet flavour and making a very good potato substitute[183, 256, K]. [PFAF]
Preservation: The cooked bulb can also be dried for later use[183] or ground into a powder and used as a thickener in soups or as an additive to cereal flours when making bread, cakes etc[161]. [PFAF]
Molasses: The bulbs can be boiled down to make a molasses, this was used on festival occasions by various Indian tribes[183]. [PFAF] One report says that the bulbs contain inulin (a starch that cannot be digested by humans) but that this breaks down when the bulb is cooked slowly to form the sugar fructose which is sweet and easily digested[256]. [PFAF]


Great CamasCamassia leichtlinii [Turner, Kuhnlein]

Part:BulbPer 100 g fresh weight
Food Energy (Kcal)-Ash (g)0.9Potassium (mg)-
Water (g)82Thiamine (mg)-Magnesium (mg)8.6
Protein (g)1Riboflavin (mg)-Calcium (mg)19
Fat (g)0.1Niacin (mg)-Phosphorus (mg)49
Carbohydrate (g)16.4Vitamin C (mg)-Sodium (mg)-
Crude Fiber (g)-Vitamin A (RE)-Iron (mg)0.6
Zinc (mg)0.4Manganese (mg)0.3Copper (mg)0.1

Cultivation A very easily grown plant, it succeeds in almost any soil[42] and is tolerant of considerable neglect once it is established[K]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers a rather heavy loam[1] that has plenty of moisture in spring but does not remain wet over the winter[138, 200]. Dislikes dry soils[200]. Prefers full sun but tolerates partial shade[138, 200]. A very ornamental plant[1], there are many named varieties[200]. Plants often self-sow[K]. A good bee plant[108]. Plants can be naturalized in damp grass, this should not be trimmed until mid to late summer when the bulbs have flowered and the leaves have died down[134]. This species can be confused with certain poisonous bulbs in the genus Zigadenus[85]. Plant the bulbs 7 - 10cm deep in early autumn and then leave undisturbed[1]. The bulbs should be planted about 20cm deep[233].[PFAF]
Propagation: Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame[134]. The seed can also be sown in a cold frame in spring[134]. It usually germinates in 1 - 6 months at 15°c, but it can be erratic[138]. Sow the seed thinly so that it does not need to be thinned and allow the seedlings to grow on undisturbed for their first year. Give an occasional liquid feed to ensure that the plants do not become nutrient deficient. When the plants are dormant in late summer, pot up the small bulbs putting 2 - 3 bulbs in each pot. Grow them on for another one or two years in a cold frame before planting them out when dormant in late summer. Offsets in late summer. The bulb has to be scored in order to produce offsets.[PFAF]


References

  1. [E-flora] http://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Camassia%20leichtlinii&redblue=Both&lifeform=7, Accessed March 31, 2015
  2. [PFAF] http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Camassia+leichtlinii, Accessed March 30, 2015