Montana Outdoors

June 7, 2010

Camas & Camas

While on a fishing trip to Thompson River today I found that the Blue Camas are blooming along the Little Thompson River. The bulbs of the Blue (or Common) Camas are starchy, nutritious, have a high sugar content and were an important food source for the Indians in this area. Many battles and indeed wars, were fought over collecting rights to certain camas meadows.

Common CamasCommon camas, Blue Camas, Small camas, Camassia quamash, Lily family

Common Camas

Common Camas

There are also other bulbs that closely resemble those of the Blue Camas, but the bulbs of the Death Camas are highly toxic. Prudence dictated that Camas bulbs were harvested while the plants were in bloom to avoid confusing the two types!

Death CamasDeath camas, Zigadenus venenosus, Lily family


  1. It’s a good thing the flowers of blue camas and death camas look nothing alike! The blue camas are such a pretty blue.


    Comment by kateri — June 8, 2010 @ 4:22 am

    • I like that light blue color too. I hate to think about how the early people figured out that one was edible, in fact a real boon to their food supply and the other was deadly.


      Comment by montucky — June 8, 2010 @ 9:53 pm

  2. I didn’t know that about the Camas, and I haven’t seen Camas before. Amazing the vast herbology in all its uses that were known by the Native Americans. In the 2nd photo, the flowers remind me of honeysuckle, also sweet. Beautiful, delicate purple flowers.


    Comment by Anna — June 8, 2010 @ 6:27 am

    • The Indians knew about each plant that is native here, and in this area I think this was a very important one. I know if a large meadow, perhaps 200 acres, that turns blue with Camas blossoms each summer. I can imagine a whole tribe there at a time digging up bulbs for part of their winter food supply.


      Comment by montucky — June 8, 2010 @ 9:58 pm

  3. Nice that the blooms are so distinctly different,… a big help during harvest.


    Comment by Cedar — June 8, 2010 @ 8:34 am

    • I haven’t dug up any of the bulbs myself, but I understand the bulbs of the two species are nearly identical. The different blossoms must have been a real blessing to those who depended on them for food.


      Comment by montucky — June 8, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

  4. I read about camas in the Lewis and Clark journals.
    Have you ever tried eating a bulb?


    Comment by sandy — June 8, 2010 @ 10:00 am

    • I have not. Perhaps if I come across more I’ll try one. I’ve read that they can be eaten raw, baked, boiled, roasted or dried. Even with my culinary skills…


      Comment by montucky — June 8, 2010 @ 10:02 pm

  5. You have Snowshoes? That’s so cool. I’ve never seen one. Beautiful pictures today.


    Comment by songofthewolf — June 8, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

    • There are lots of Snowshoes in this region. They are pretty easy to see in summer, but in winter they are almost invisible against the snow. When I was a kid I used to hunt them and found that sometimes in early winter they had already turned white but there was no snow. Then they were easy to find!


      Comment by montucky — June 8, 2010 @ 10:05 pm

  6. The good thing is that when both varieties are blooming, they’re easy to tell apart. The rest of the time, one has to be more careful.


    Comment by knightofswords — June 8, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

    • I’d think that harvesting the bulbs without the visual aid of the blossoms would be a little like playing Russian Roulette.


      Comment by montucky — June 8, 2010 @ 10:06 pm

  7. This is the first time I’ve seen a Cama. Interesting facts and the usual excellent photographs!


    Comment by wildlifewatcher — June 8, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

    • One of the endearing things about the bloom of the Blue Camas is that they are found in beautiful big green meadows where they serve to enhance the entire view.


      Comment by montucky — June 8, 2010 @ 10:07 pm

  8. Been away from the blog-o-sphere for a few days, catching up your posts is always informative (Ponderosas) and impressive (Southern Montana Landscapes and Ladyslippers). Good stuff.


    Comment by DaveABirding — June 8, 2010 @ 5:18 pm

    • Yes, lots of good stuff this time of year! I’m very far behind in posting photos of wildflowers: there have been so many blooming at about the same time.


      Comment by montucky — June 8, 2010 @ 10:09 pm

  9. I never heard of them either. Interesting facts.


    Comment by Candace — June 8, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

    • There are lots of folks living in this area who haven’t seen them either I’m afraid. They only grow in certain areas and if you’re not there when they bloom you never know they exist. That can easily happen.


      Comment by montucky — June 8, 2010 @ 10:11 pm

  10. how interesting. I think I would wait til I could tell the difference too!


    Comment by silken — June 9, 2010 @ 7:37 am

    • Fortunately I think it would be pretty hard to even find the plants without blossoms but if I did I sure wouldn’t take the chance. Death Camas are spread all over.


      Comment by montucky — June 9, 2010 @ 10:18 pm

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