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[
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 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[
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.
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[
Western N. America - British Colombia to Alberta, south to California, Nevada and Utah
Coastal mountain forests, wet meadows, fields and rocky coastal bluffs; at elevations up to 2,500 metres[
]. Subsp azurea is found in alluvial plains, meadows, light, well-drained prairie soils;at elevations up to 200 metres[
The dormant bulbs are very hardy and will withstand soil temperatures down to at least -10°c[
Succeeds in almost any soil[
]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers a rather heavy loam[
] that has plenty of moisture in spring but does not remain wet over the winter[
]. Dislikes dry soils[
]. Prefers full sun but tolerates partial shade[
Quamash is a very pretty flowering bulb that has quite a large potential as an edible ornamental plant[
]. It grows very well in the flower border but can also be naturalised in damp grass[
]. 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[
A polymorphic and very ornamental plant[
], there are some named varieties[
]. The subspecies C. Quamash maxima has larger bulbs than the type, up to 65mm in diameter[
Plants take 2 - 3 years to commence frowering from seed[
A good bee plant[
Plant the bulbs 7 - 10cm deep in early autumn and then leave undisturbed[
Bulb - raw or cooked[
]. The bulb, which can be up to 5cm in diameter[
], has a mild, starchy flavour when eaten raw, but a gummy texture that reduces the enjoyment of it somewhat[
]. When cooked, however, it develops a delicious sweet flavour somewhat like sweet chestnuts[
], and is a highly nutritious food[
]. 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[
]. The bulbs can be boiled down to make a molasses, this was used on festival occasions by various Indian tribes[
]. The bulbs can be harvested at any time of the year[
], but are probably best in early summer when the seeds are ripe[
]. 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[
Quamash bulbs were a staple food of the N. American Indians[
]. 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.
A decoction of the roots has been used to induce labour[
An infusion of the leaves has been used to treat vaginal bleeding after birth and to help expel the placenta[
Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame[
]. The seed can also be sown in a cold frame in spring[
]. It usually germinates in 1 - 6 months at 15°c, but it can be erratic[
]. 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.