Camassia quamash

Camassia quamash

Quamash (Camassia quamash), syn. Camaridium leichtlinii var. watsoni M.E.Jones, Camassia esculenta Lindl., Camassia leichtlinii var. watsoni M.E.Jones, Phalangium esculentum Nutt., Phalangium quamash Pursh, Quamasia quamash Coville, also known as Small Camas, is a perennial herb in the family Agavaceae. It is one species of the genus Camassia and 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.

The pale blue to deep blue flowers grow in a raceme at the end of the stem. Each of the radially symmetrical, star-shaped flowers have 6 petals. The stems have a length between 30 cm and 90 cm. The leaves are basal and have a grass-like appearance.

The name Quamash is a Nez Perce term for the plant's bulb , which was gathered and used as a food source by tribes in the Pacific Northwest. The bulbs were harvested and pit-roasted or boiled by women of the Nez Perce, Cree, and Blackfoot tribes. It also provided a valuable food source for the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition (1804-1806).

Quamash is not just an edible plant, it is also grown as an ornamental plant. Even in the wild, large numbers of quamash can color an entire meadow blue-violet.

While quamash is edible and nutritious, it often grows with Zygadenus species which are extremely poisonous and which have very similar bulbs, so it is very important to be sure of your identification.

There are eight subspecies:

  • Camassia quamash subsp. azurea – Small Camas
  • Camassia quamash subsp. breviflora – Small Camas
  • Camassia quamash subsp. intermedia – Small Camas
  • Camassia quamash subsp. linearis – Small Camas
  • Camassia quamash subsp. maxima – Small Camas
  • Camassia quamash subsp. quamash – Small Camas
  • Camassia quamash subsp. utahensis – Utah Small Camas
  • Camassia quamash subsp. walpolei – Walpole's Small Camas

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