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Camassia quamash

Camassia quamash (Pursh) Greene


Camassia, Indian Camas

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassLiliopsidaMonocots (plants with a single seed leaf); includes the lily family
SubclassLiliidaeIncludes lilies, orchids, and many others
OrderAsparagalesA diverse group that includes asparagus
FamilyAsparagaceaeAgaves, asparagus, hyacinths, and others
GenusCamassiaFrom native American word Camas, for “sweet,” in reference to the importance of this plant as a food source
SpeciesquamashAccording to Wikipedia, “The name Quamash is a Native American 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).”

About plant names...

Camassia is a North American native. The species name itself, quamash, is from qém’es, which refers to the plant’s bulb, in the nearly extinct language Nez Perce. The speakers of this language, along with many other indigenous peoples including the Blackfoots and Cree, valued the bulbs as a food. Lewis and Clark and members of their party were impressed with both the industrious harvesting and processing of the bulbs, and with their flavor, described variously as similar to that of pumpkins, potatoes, or roasted onions.

Identification: Plants are 24-36" (60-91 cm) high. Leaves are 4-24" (10-60 cm) long. Flowers are an attractive blue or blue-violet color, on racemes (flowerheads) with petals ⅜-1¼" (1.2-3.5 cm) long. Fruits are a three-celled capsule, ⅛-¾" (6-19 mm) long, with 5-10 seeds per cell. Bulbs are ⅜-2" (1-5 cm) across.

Edibility: Bulbs were steamed or pit-cooked for one to three days, a process which converts the indigestible and taste­less sugar inulin into simpler and digestible sugars, notably fructose. When these plants were widespread, they served as a major food resource. Cooked bulbs taste similar to chestnuts. Bulbs may be dried and pounded to produce flour, or soaked to reconstitute them. However, these plants resemble an intensely poisonous species, sometimes called ”death camas” for its similarity, so it is essential to make a positive ID prior to experimenting with the culinary benefits of this plant.

North American Cornucopia: Top 100 Indigenous Food Plants lists this at a top 100 prospect for commerical development as a native food source. Although they are slow-growing and do best in wetter, harder to till, soils, even in their uncultivated form they produced an estimated 20-50% of some indigenous Americans’ caloric needs in the regions where they are found.

Online References:

Camassia quamash on Wikipedia

Camassia quamash on Plants for a Future, a resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants

Camassia quamash in Paghat's Garden

Camassia quamash on naturalhistory.si.edu (PDF)

Camassia quamash on Wikimedia Commons

Camassia quamash on CalPhotos

Camassia quamash on the USDA Forest Service's Fire Effects Information Database

Camassia quamash on eFloras


Small, Ernest, North American Cornucopia: Top 100 Indigenous Food Plants, CRC Press, 2014, p. 193

Camassia quamash (Camassia, Indian Camas)

5/15/2010 · Garden in the Woods, Framingham, MA
≈ 6 × 6" (14 × 16 cm)

Camassia quamash description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 2 Jan 2019.

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Camassia quamash (Camassia, Indian Camas)


Camassia quamash (Camassia, Indian Camas)


Camassia quamash (Camassia, Indian Camas)

5/15/2010 · Garden in the Woods, Framingham, MA
≈ 14 × 21" (34 × 52 cm)

Camassia quamash (Camassia, Indian Camas)

5/22/2010 · Garden in the Woods, Framingham, MA
≈ 9 × 12" (22 × 30 cm)

Camassia quamash (Camassia, Indian Camas)



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