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Useful Temperate Plants

Camassia quamash

(Pursh) Greene

Asparagaceae


Camassia quamash is highly variable morphologically. Although there tend to be distinct geographical variants, which are here recognized as eight distinct subspecies following F. W. Gould (1942), there is much overlap among them. The subspecific status of these taxa is retained to highlight the extreme morphological variability and geographical patterns within the species. A detailed biosystematic study of this complex is needed[
270
Title
Flora of N. America
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://flora.huh.harvard.edu/fna/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
An on-line version of the flora with an excellent description of the plant including a brief mention of plant uses.
].

+ Synonyms

Anthericum esculentum (Nutt.) Spreng.

Anthericum quamash (Pursh) Steud.

Camassia azurea A.Heller

Camassia esculenta (Nutt.) Lindl.

Camassia leichtlinii watsonii M.E.Jones

Camassia teapeae H.St.John

Camassia walpolei (Piper) J.F.Macbr.

Cyanotris angustifolia Raf.

Phalangium esculentum Nutt.

Phalangium quamash Pursh

Quamasia azurea A.Heller

Quamasia esculenta (Nutt.) Raf.

Quamasia quamash (Pursh) Coville

Quamasia walpolei Piper

Sitocodium esculentum (Nutt.) Salisb.

Common Name: Quamash

Camassia quamash
Flowering plant
Photograph by: Walter Siegmund
Creative Commons License
Camassia quamash Camassia quamash Camassia quamash Camassia quamash

General Information

Camassia quamash is a herbaceous perennial plant growing from a solitary bulb (occasionally forming clusters) 10 - 50mm in diameter; it produces a cluster of up to 10 grass-like leaves 10 - 60cm long and flowering stems 20 - 80cm tall[
270
Title
Flora of N. America
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://flora.huh.harvard.edu/fna/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
An on-line version of the flora with an excellent description of the plant including a brief mention of plant uses.
].
The bulb was a staple food of the native N. Americans who harvested it in quantity for immediate use, dried it for storing and also used it as an item of trade. The plant is often grown as an ornamental in gardens.

Known Hazards

Camassia bulbs have long been an important food staple for native North Americans, especially in the Pacific Northwest of N. America, where the bulbs were dug and traded on large encampment meadows. However, the plants are superficially similar to the poisonous species of Zigadenus (known as ‘death camas’) and so great care should be taken in making a positive identification[
270
Title
Flora of N. America
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://flora.huh.harvard.edu/fna/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
An on-line version of the flora with an excellent description of the plant including a brief mention of plant uses.
,
K
Title
Plants for a Future
Author
Ken Fern
Description
Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.
].

Botanical References

60
Title
Vascular Plants of the Pacific Northwest.
Publication
 
Author
Hitchcock. C. L.
Publisher
University of Washington Press
Year
1955
ISBN
-
Description
A standard flora for Western N. America with lots of information on habitat etc. Five large volumes, it is not for the casual reader.
,
200
Title
The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Publication
 
Author
Huxley. A.
Publisher
MacMillan Press
Year
1992
ISBN
0-333-47494-5
Description
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
,
270
Title
Flora of N. America
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://flora.huh.harvard.edu/fna/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
An on-line version of the flora with an excellent description of the plant including a brief mention of plant uses.

Range

Western N. America - British Colombia to Alberta, south to California, Nevada and Utah

Habitat

Coastal mountain forests, wet meadows, fields and rocky coastal bluffs; at elevations up to 2,500 metres[
60
Title
Vascular Plants of the Pacific Northwest.
Publication
 
Author
Hitchcock. C. L.
Publisher
University of Washington Press
Year
1955
ISBN
-
Description
A standard flora for Western N. America with lots of information on habitat etc. Five large volumes, it is not for the casual reader.
,
62
Title
A Field Guide to N. American Edible Wild Plants.
Publication
 
Author
Elias. T. and Dykeman. P.
Publisher
Van Nostrand Reinhold
Year
1982
ISBN
0442222009
Description
Very readable.
,
270
Title
Flora of N. America
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://flora.huh.harvard.edu/fna/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
An on-line version of the flora with an excellent description of the plant including a brief mention of plant uses.
]. Subsp azurea is found in alluvial plains, meadows, light, well-drained prairie soils;at elevations up to 200 metres[
270
Title
Flora of N. America
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://flora.huh.harvard.edu/fna/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
An on-line version of the flora with an excellent description of the plant including a brief mention of plant uses.
].

Properties

Edibility Rating *  *  *  *
Medicinal Rating *  *
HabitBulb
Height0.30 m
PollinatorsBees
Cultivation StatusOrnamental, Wild

Cultivation Details

The dormant bulbs are very hardy and will withstand soil temperatures down to at least -10°c[
214
Title
The New Plantsman. Volume 1, 1994.
Publication
 
Author
Matthews. V.
Publisher
Royal Horticultural Society
Year
1994
ISBN
1352-4186
Description
A quarterly magazine, it has articles on Himalayacalamus hookerianus, hardy Euphorbias and an excellent article on Hippophae spp.
].
Succeeds in almost any soil[
42
Title
Hardy Bulbs.
Publication
 
Author
Grey. C. H.
Publisher
Williams & Norgate.
Year
1938
ISBN
-
Description
Rather dated now, but an immense work on bulbs for temperate zones and how to grow them. Three large volumes.
]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers a rather heavy loam[
1
Title
RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Publication
 
Author
F. Chittendon.
Publisher
Oxford University Press
Year
1951
ISBN
-
Description
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaced in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
] that has plenty of moisture in spring but does not remain wet over the winter[
138
Title
Growing from Seed. Volume 3.
Publication
 
Author
Bird. R. (Editor)
Publisher
Thompson and Morgan.
Year
1989
ISBN
-
Description
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation.
,
200
Title
The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Publication
 
Author
Huxley. A.
Publisher
MacMillan Press
Year
1992
ISBN
0-333-47494-5
Description
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
]. Dislikes dry soils[
200
Title
The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Publication
 
Author
Huxley. A.
Publisher
MacMillan Press
Year
1992
ISBN
0-333-47494-5
Description
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
]. Prefers full sun but tolerates partial shade[
138
Title
Growing from Seed. Volume 3.
Publication
 
Author
Bird. R. (Editor)
Publisher
Thompson and Morgan.
Year
1989
ISBN
-
Description
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation.
,
200
Title
The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Publication
 
Author
Huxley. A.
Publisher
MacMillan Press
Year
1992
ISBN
0-333-47494-5
Description
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
].
Quamash is a very pretty flowering bulb that has quite a large potential as an edible ornamental plant[
K
Title
Plants for a Future
Author
Ken Fern
Description
Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.
]. It grows very well in the flower border but can also be naturalised in damp grass[
134
Title
Growing from Seed. Volume 2.
Publication
 
Author
Rice. G. (Editor)
Publisher
Thompson and Morgan.
Year
1988
ISBN
-
Description
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation. An interesting article on Ensete ventricosum.
]. 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
Title
Plants for a Future
Author
Ken Fern
Description
Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.
].
A polymorphic and very ornamental plant[
1
Title
RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Publication
 
Author
F. Chittendon.
Publisher
Oxford University Press
Year
1951
ISBN
-
Description
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaced in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
], there are some named varieties[
200
Title
The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Publication
 
Author
Huxley. A.
Publisher
MacMillan Press
Year
1992
ISBN
0-333-47494-5
Description
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
]. The subspecies C. Quamash maxima has larger bulbs than the type, up to 65mm in diameter[
270
Title
Flora of N. America
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://flora.huh.harvard.edu/fna/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
An on-line version of the flora with an excellent description of the plant including a brief mention of plant uses.
].
Plants take 2 - 3 years to commence frowering from seed[
1050
Title
Fire Effects Information System
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://www.feis-crs.org/feis/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
An on-line information site with comprehensive information on over 1,100 species of plant. Mainly developed to supply information on the effects of fire on plants and animals, it also contains a wealth of other information on the plants
].
A good bee plant[
108
Title
Garden Plants Valuable to Bees.
Publication
 
Author
International Bee Research Association.
Publisher
International Bee Research Association.
Year
1981
ISBN
-
Description
The title says it all.
].
Plant the bulbs 7 - 10cm deep in early autumn and then leave undisturbed[
1
Title
RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Publication
 
Author
F. Chittendon.
Publisher
Oxford University Press
Year
1951
ISBN
-
Description
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaced in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
].

Edible Uses

Bulb - raw or cooked[
62
Title
A Field Guide to N. American Edible Wild Plants.
Publication
 
Author
Elias. T. and Dykeman. P.
Publisher
Van Nostrand Reinhold
Year
1982
ISBN
0442222009
Description
Very readable.
,
95
Title
Edible and Useful Wild Plants of the United States and Canada.
Publication
 
Author
Saunders. C. F.
Publisher
Dover Publications
Year
1976
ISBN
0-486-23310-3
Description
Useful wild plants of America. A pocket guide.
]. The bulb, which can be up to 5cm in diameter[
270
Title
Flora of N. America
Publication
 
Author
 
Website
http://flora.huh.harvard.edu/fna/
Publisher
 
Year
0
ISBN
 
Description
An on-line version of the flora with an excellent description of the plant including a brief mention of plant uses.
], has a mild, starchy flavour when eaten raw, but a gummy texture that reduces the enjoyment of it somewhat[
K
Title
Plants for a Future
Author
Ken Fern
Description
Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.
]. When cooked, however, it develops a delicious sweet flavour somewhat like sweet chestnuts[
92
Title
Early Uses of Californian Plants.
Publication
 
Author
Balls. E. K.
Publisher
University of California Press
Year
1975
ISBN
0-520-00072-2
Description
A nice readable book.
], and is a highly nutritious food[
2
Title
Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Publication
 
Author
Hedrick. U. P.
Publisher
Dover Publications
Year
1972
ISBN
0-486-20459-6
Description
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
]. Excellent when slow baked, it can also be dried and made into a powder which can be used as a thickener in stews or mixed with cereal flours when making bread, cakes etc[
K
Title
Plants for a Future
Author
Ken Fern
Description
Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.
]. The bulbs can be boiled down to make a molasses, this was used on festival occasions by various Indian tribes[
2
Title
Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Publication
 
Author
Hedrick. U. P.
Publisher
Dover Publications
Year
1972
ISBN
0-486-20459-6
Description
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
,
183
Title
Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Publication
 
Author
Facciola. S.
Publisher
Kampong Publications
Year
1990
ISBN
0-9628087-0-9
Description
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
]. The bulbs can be harvested at any time of the year[
85
Title
Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains.
Publication
 
Author
Harrington. H. D.
Publisher
University of New Mexico Press
Year
1967
ISBN
0-8623-0343-9
Description
A superb book. Very readable, it gives the results of the authors experiments with native edible plants.
], but are probably best in early summer when the seeds are ripe[
94
Title
Common Edible and Useful Plants of the West.
Publication
 
Author
Sweet. M.
Publisher
Naturegraph Co.
Year
1962
ISBN
0-911010-54-8
Description
Useful wild plants in Western N. America. A pocket guide.
]. 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
Title
Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples
Publication
 
Author
Turner. N. J.
Publisher
UBC Press. Vancouver.
Year
1995
ISBN
0-7748-0533-1
Description
Excellent little handbook about the native food plants of Western Canada. Good descriptions of the plants and their uses with colour photos of most plants.
].
Quamash bulbs were a staple food of the N. American Indians[
42
Title
Hardy Bulbs.
Publication
 
Author
Grey. C. H.
Publisher
Williams & Norgate.
Year
1938
ISBN
-
Description
Rather dated now, but an immense work on bulbs for temperate zones and how to grow them. Three large volumes.
,
92
Title
Early Uses of Californian Plants.
Publication
 
Author
Balls. E. K.
Publisher
University of California Press
Year
1975
ISBN
0-520-00072-2
Description
A nice readable book.
]. The tribes would move to the Quamash fields in the early autumn and, whilst some people harvested the bulbs, others would dig a pit, line it with boulders then fill it with wood and set fire to it. The fire would heat the boulders and the harvested bulbs would then be placed in the pit and the whole thing covered with earth and the bulbs left to cook slowly for 2 days. The pit would then be opened and the Indians would feast on the bulbs until they could no longer fit any more in their stomachs. Whatever was left would be dried and stored for winter use.

Medicinal

A decoction of the roots has been used to induce labour[
257
Title
Native American Ethnobotany
Publication
 
Author
Moerman. D.
Publisher
Timber Press. Oregon.
Year
1998
ISBN
0-88192-453-9
Description
Very comprehensive but terse guide to the native uses of plants. Excellent bibliography, fully referenced to each plant, giving a pathway to further information. Not for the casual reader.
].

An infusion of the leaves has been used to treat vaginal bleeding after birth and to help expel the placenta[
257
Title
Native American Ethnobotany
Publication
 
Author
Moerman. D.
Publisher
Timber Press. Oregon.
Year
1998
ISBN
0-88192-453-9
Description
Very comprehensive but terse guide to the native uses of plants. Excellent bibliography, fully referenced to each plant, giving a pathway to further information. Not for the casual reader.
].

Other Uses

None known

Propagation

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame[
134
Title
Growing from Seed. Volume 2.
Publication
 
Author
Rice. G. (Editor)
Publisher
Thompson and Morgan.
Year
1988
ISBN
-
Description
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation. An interesting article on Ensete ventricosum.
]. The seed can also be sown in a cold frame in spring[
134
Title
Growing from Seed. Volume 2.
Publication
 
Author
Rice. G. (Editor)
Publisher
Thompson and Morgan.
Year
1988
ISBN
-
Description
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation. An interesting article on Ensete ventricosum.
]. It usually germinates in 1 - 6 months at 15°c, but it can be erratic[
138
Title
Growing from Seed. Volume 3.
Publication
 
Author
Bird. R. (Editor)
Publisher
Thompson and Morgan.
Year
1989
ISBN
-
Description
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation.
]. 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.
Cite as: Temperate Plants Database, Ken Fern. temperate.theferns.info. 2018-06-19. <temperate.theferns.info/plant/Camassia+quamash>

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