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Camassia quamash

camas, common camas, small camas

camas, quamash

Habit Herbs, perennial, from bulbs.

seldom clustered, globose, 1–5 cm diam.

solitary or clustered, tunicate, ovoid to globose;

tunic black or brown.


usually fewer than 10, 1–6 dm × 4–20 mm.

basal, appearing whorled;

blade linear, keeled.


20–80 cm;

sterile bracts absent, bracts subtending flowers usually equaling or exceeding pedicel.

appearing terminal, racemose, bracteate;

bracts sterile or subtending flowers, narrowly lanceolate.


usually zygomorphic, sometimes actinomorphic;

tepals withering separately or connivent over capsules after anthesis, long-persistent on fruiting racemes, blue or bluish violet, each 3–9-veined, 12–35 × 1.5–8 mm;

anthers usually yellow, sometimes bluish violet, violet, or brown, 2.5–7 mm; fruiting pedicel mostly incurving-erect, occasionally spreading-erect, 5–70 mm.

actinomorphic or zygomorphic;

tepals 6, persistent, ± equal in 2 whorls of 3, distinct, violet, blue, or white, each 3–9-veined, lanceolate, ± twisted in drying;

stamens 6;

filaments inserted on receptacles at base of tepals, slender;

anthers versatile, dehiscence introrse;

ovary 3-locular, septal nectaries present, ovules 6–36;

style filiform;

stigma 3-lobed;

pedicel spreading to incurving-erect in fruit.


capsular, ovoid to ellipsoid or subglobose, dehiscence loculicidal.


not deciduous, pale green to pale brown, ovoid, 6–19 mm.


5–10 per locule.

6–36, lustrous black, obpyriform to ovoid-ellipsoid, 2–4 mm.


= 15.


= 30.

Camassia quamash


from USDA
w United States and Canada
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from USDA
North America
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camassia quamash is highly variable morphologically. although there tend to be distinct geographical variants. here recognized as 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

Subspecies 8 (8 in the flora).

(Discussion copyrighted by Flora of North America; reprinted with permission.)

Species 6 (6 in the flora).

Cmassia has been associated with other western North American genera of Liliaceae such as Schoenolirion, Hastingsia, and especially Chlorogalum (F. Speta 1998; M. Pfosser and F. Speta 1999), but recent molecular evidence (D. J. Bogler and B. B. Simpson 1996; M. F. Fay and M. W. Chase 1996) suggests that it may be related instead to the Agavaceae. Furthermore, the bimodal, 2n = 30 karyology of Camassia (A. Fernandez and J. R. Davina 1991) is similar to that of Agavaceae (D. Satô 1935) and not that of Chlorogalum.

Camassia bulbs have been an important food staple for native Americans, especially in the Pacific Northwest (G. R. Downing and L. S. Furniss 1968; N. J. Turner and H. V. Kuhnlein 1983), where bulbs were dug and traded on large encampment meadows. Similarity to the poisonous bulbs of Zigadenus (“death camas”) is a concern where ranges of the two genera overlap. Several Camassia species are cultivated and represent a major horticultural contribution from the native flora.

Variation and intergradation of C. angusta and C. scilloides have been reviewed by T. A. Ranker and A. F. Schnabel (1986), as well as J. A. Steyermark (1961), R. O. Erickson (1941), and F. W. Gould (1942).

(Discussion copyrighted by Flora of North America; reprinted with permission.)

1. Tepals connivent over capsules after anthesis, usually forced apart again by capsule growth.
→ 2
1. Tepals withering separately after anthesis, with no tendency to be connivent over capsules.
→ 4
2. Leaves 6–15 mm wide, not glaucous; tepals 5-, 7-, or 9-veined, or occasionally 3-veined in outer whorls; n California coast ranges.
subsp. linearis
2. Leaves 10–20 mm wide, glaucous adaxially; tepals usually 3-veined, or 5-veined, in inner whorls; w and nw United States.
→ 3
3. Tepals bright blue to deep bluish violet, 15–20 mm; anthers bright yellow; ec California, n to Washington.
subsp. breviflora
3. Tepals pale to deep bluish violet, 16–31 mm; anthers dull yellow to violet; s Idaho, n Utah.
subsp. utahensis
4. Fruiting pedicels with capsules held away from raceme axes.
→ 5
4. Fruiting pedicels with capsules usually closely appressed to raceme axes (except subsp. maxima).
→ 6
5. Tepals light bluish violet; (bulbs 20–35 × 15–25 mm, shallowly buried in) light, well-drained prairie soils; sw Washington.
subsp. azurea
5. Tepals bright to deep bluish violet; (bulbs 15–65 × 14–50 mm, deeply buried in) wet meadows, fields, and rocky coastal bluffs, sw British Columbia to nw Oregon.
subsp. maxima
6. Pedicels usually 5–10 mm; flowers actinomorphic; tepals 12–20 mm; sw Oregon.
subsp. walpolei
6. Pedicels 10–70 mm; flowers slightly zygomorphic or actinomorphic; tepals 15–35 mm; sw Canada, w Oregon and Washington e to Rocky Mountains.
→ 7
7. Leaves not glaucous; anthers bright yellow; Oregon only.
subsp. intermedia
7. Leaves glaucous adaxially; anthers dull yellow, bluish violet, violet, or brown; extreme sw Canada, nw United States.
→ 8
8. Anthers never yellow, bluish violet to brown only.
subsp. quamash
8. Anthers dull yellow, violet, or brown.
subsp. maxima
1. Tepals connivent over capsules after anthesis and deciduous as capsules develop, or withering separately.
→ 2
1. Tepals mostly withering separately at base of capsules after anthesis, sometimes connivent over capsules, not deciduous.
→ 4
2. Fruiting pedicels usually incurving-erect (often with capsules closely appressed to raceme axes); flowers actinomorphic or zygomorphic [5 tepals curving upward, the 6th downward; usually (4–)10–35(–58) blooming simultaneously, except on few-flowered individuals]; tepals long-persistent on fruiting racemes.
C. quamash
2. Fruiting pedicels usually spreading-erect (capsules not appressed to raceme axes); flowers actinomorphic (usually 1–3 blooming simultaneously); tepals connivent over capsules after anthesis, deciduous as capsules develop.
→ 3
3. Capsules dull green, ovoid to ellipsoid, 10–25 mm; seeds 6–12 per locule; s British Columbia to c California.
C. leichtlinii
3. Capsules shiny green, subglobose, 5–10 mm; seeds 2–5 per locule; sw Oregon.
C. howellii
4. Capsules subglobose or ovoid-ellipsoid; e Great Plains to Appalachians and Great Lakes to s United States.
→ 5
4. Capsules ovoid or ellipsoid; s British Columbia, s Alberta, nw United States.
→ 6
5. Inflorescences 19–47 cm, with 0–5 sterile bracts; fruiting pedicels mostly spreading-erect; capsules subglobose; flowering earlier than sympatric populations of Camassia angusta.
C. scilloides
5. Inflorescences 27–87 cm, with 3–28 sterile bracts; fruiting pedicels mostly incurving-erect; capsules ovoid-ellipsoid; flowering later than sympatric populations of Camassia scilloides.
C. angusta
6. Bulbs usually clustered, ellipsoid, 2–7 cm diam.; leaves rarely fewer than 10, 2–5 cm wide; ne Oregon and adjacent Idaho.
C. cusickii
6. Bulbs seldom clustered, globose, 1–5 cm diam.; leaves usually fewer than 10, 4–20 mm wide; widespread in Pacific Northwest.
C. quamash
Source FNA vol. 26, p. 304. FNA vol. 26, p. 303. Authors: Tom A. Ranker, Tim Hogan.
Parent taxa Liliaceae > Camassia Liliaceae
Sibling taxa
C. angusta, C. cusickii, C. howellii, C. leichtlinii, C. scilloides
Subordinate taxa
C. quamash subsp. azurea, C. quamash subsp. breviflora, C. quamash subsp. intermedia, C. quamash subsp. linearis, C. quamash subsp. maxima, C. quamash subsp. quamash, C. quamash subsp. utahensis, C. quamash subsp. walpolei
C. angusta, C. cusickii, C. howellii, C. leichtlinii, C. quamash, C. scilloides
Synonyms Phalangium quamash
Name authority (Pursh) Greene: Man. Bot. San Francisco, 313. (1894) Lindley: Edwards’s Bot. Reg. 18: plate 1486. (1832)
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