Common Camas

Common camas in bloom near Verigin's Tomb, Castlegar, BC.

Common camas (Camassia quamash), also known as small camas or blue camas, is a native perennial lily with edible bulbs. The grass-like leaves emerge from the base. Common camas flowers are light to deep bluish-violet. Camas plants found in the Columbia Basin are usually pale blue, while those from coastal British Columbia are darker purple. Its flowers have six petals (technically 3 narrow 'sepals' and 3 wider 'petals') arranged along a 20-90 cm-long flower spike.

Camas bulbs were one of the most widely used plant foods by indigenous people in the Columbia Basin and along the coast of British Columbia. For this reason, it has been called a 'cultural keystone species'.

NOTE: The extremely poisonous, and aptly-named, death camas (Zigadenus venenosus) has very similar bulbs, and often grows with the edible common camas. Do not sample camas bulbs unless you are certain of its identification.

Map

Biodiversity Interactive Map - Common Camas (Camassia quamash) Observations

Range

North America: Camas extends from southern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta to Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and south to California.

BC: Camas is found in southwest British Columbia, including southeast Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and the adjacent lower mainland. It is also found in isolated locations along the Columbia River from Waneta to Edgewood.

Columbia Basin: The majority of camas in the Columbia Basin occurs near the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers around Castlegar. Smaller camas populations are found in South Slocan, on the Marsden Bluffs near Nelson, as well as in riparian locations along the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers.

Habitat

Camas is found in a wide variety of habitats. Camassia quamash grows at low elevations in coastal mountain forests, and in moist meadows and prairies inland. This bulb grows best in well-drained soil high in humus. It will grow in lightly shaded forest areas and on rocky outcrops, as well as in open meadows or prairies. It is also found growing alongside streams and rivers in moisture-receiving sites.

Biology

  • Camas blooms in the Columbia Basin from late April to early June, depending on weather and elevation
  • Flowers are pollinated by bees, beetles, ants and other insects
  • Seeds ripen and are dispersed from late June to August
  • Camas blibs go dormant in summer
  • Individual plants may live for 15 to 20 years

Listing and Date

Listing Date
B.C. List Yellow
COSEWIC Not listed N/A
SARA Not listed N/A

Common camas is not an endangered species, but its populations are far below historic levels and it has been pushed to the margins of suitable habitats.

Threats to Species

  • Habitat loss and degradation, a result of agricultural conversion and urbanization
  • Forest in-growth and invasive species
  • Changes to the hydrologic regime, a result of flood control from the dams along the Columbia Basin rivers

Select Reports

For more information on this species, visit:
The BC Species and Ecosystem Explorer where you should enter "Common Camas" or "Camassia quamash" in the Species Name field.

 

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