Montana Outdoors

May 18, 2011

Camas

Filed under: Wildflowers — Tags: , , , — montucky @ 9:00 pm

Common Camas, Blue Camas

Common Camas or Blue Camas ~ Camassia quamash

Meadow Death Camas

Meadow Death Camas ~ Zigadenus venenosus

Common or Blue Camas was an important food source for Indian tribes in the west and many Indian wars were fought over collecting rights to certain camas meadows.

Meadow Death Camas is a highly poisonous perennial herb. Serious losses can occur to stock grazing in meadows where it is common. Several Indian tribes used the mashed bulbs as arrow poison.

The problem is that the bulbs of the two species are visually nearly identical. I don’t like to think about how the early Indians learned which was edible and which was lethal, but they did and therefore harvested the bulbs of the Blue Camas only while it was in bloom.

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30 Comments »

  1. I love your macro shots. Almost makes me want to go back to using a camera with interchangeable lenses, but then again. . . why spend all that money when I can enjoy the beautiful work you share.

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    Comment by anniespickns — May 18, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

    • Thanks Annie! Interchangeable lenses are both a blessing and a curse. It seems that I always have the wrong one on the camera and they also get heavy: my camera and three lenses adds 7 pounds to my pack. I do like the image quality they produce though and the telephoto really helps with wildlife photos: I often want a stronger one, but that’s where I draw the line on weight. Couldn’t afford it anyway.

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      Comment by montucky — May 18, 2011 @ 9:20 pm

  2. Wow! You sure do capture the beauty of Montana for us..!

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    Comment by mitambien — May 18, 2011 @ 9:52 pm

    • Thank you. I have a special love for the wild country and wildflowers especially because they seem to be indicators of the health of those places. It makes me happy knowing that other folks enjoy seeing them too and knowing that they exist.

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      Comment by montucky — May 18, 2011 @ 10:43 pm

  3. That’s pretty scary. Pretty, though.

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    Comment by Candace — May 18, 2011 @ 10:06 pm

    • It makes me especially aware of any wild plants that I may consider eating.

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      Comment by montucky — May 18, 2011 @ 10:45 pm

  4. The blue camas is so lovely. Very freaky that the plants look so similar and one was a valued food source and the other was a deadly poisen.

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    Comment by kateri — May 19, 2011 @ 5:43 am

    • There must have been some sudden change in their development I suppose. Maybe someone knows.

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      Comment by montucky — May 19, 2011 @ 8:02 am

  5. Hi Montucky, There are several wild plants that are edible that have dead ringers which are not (pardon my pun). Your pictures are great! Have a wonderful day!

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    Comment by wildlifewatcher — May 19, 2011 @ 9:01 am

  6. Both are gorgeous! Interesting history lesson, too!

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    Comment by Barbara — May 19, 2011 @ 11:06 am

    • As I read about wildflowers I see that many were used for food, but most are so small they don’t provide a lot. The camas however grows in large numbers and provided a lot of food.

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      Comment by montucky — May 19, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

  7. Every time I see camas, I think of the lewis and clark expedition. Camas seemed to be a mainstay with the indians they traveled with.

    I guess if a person is hungry enough they might try whatever root they could get their hands on.

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    Comment by sandy — May 19, 2011 @ 2:57 pm

    • I think it was a major food item because it was plentiful and fairly easy to harvest. Perhaps I will try some to see what it tastes like.

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      Comment by montucky — May 19, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

  8. Great captures T.

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    Comment by Jeff Lynch — May 19, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

  9. Doesn;’t look like the most edible of plants, but you eat what you have. Ground camas root flour, maybe? That death camas has probably caused a fair amount of grief, though.

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    Comment by Bo Mackison — May 19, 2011 @ 6:09 pm

    • I’ve read that they were traditionally pit-cooked for 24 to 36 hours which brought out the sweetness of the bulb. They were valued also as a sweetener, so they might be quite tasty.

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      Comment by montucky — May 19, 2011 @ 9:00 pm

  10. Interesting info from these two unknown flowers to me. Both photos are good photos, but I love more that latter due to its nice green & white combination.

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    Comment by sartenada — May 19, 2011 @ 11:38 pm

    • THere are lots of them growing on the hills behind our house. It’s strange, but in this area the Death Camas is widespread while the Blue Camas grows only in limited areas.

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      Comment by montucky — May 20, 2011 @ 9:45 pm

      • The indians probably looked for the fields of blue flowers and noted their locations, then dug the bulbs only in those locations. We have the death camas at our place, but no blue camas.

        I do know of a couple spots where I’ve seen a spread of blue camas from the highway that looked like a pond. If I find myself starving, I’ll go dig bulbs there!

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        Comment by Kim — May 23, 2011 @ 8:38 am

        • They clearly knew where the Camas meadows were, but to be sure of what they were getting they probably dug them only when they were in bloom. Death Camas sometimes grows right in with Common Camas.

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          Comment by montucky — May 23, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

  11. Such clear detail – beautiful!

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    Comment by Stacey Dawn — May 20, 2011 @ 11:31 am

  12. Well gee, I am really drawn to Meadow Death Camas, and of course, it is poisonous. I like the spray up-sweep of the flowers. Interesting information as I didn’t know.

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    Comment by Anna — May 20, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

    • I don’t think either grow as far east as Kansas. I would have thought the Blue Camas did but I see not.

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      Comment by montucky — May 20, 2011 @ 9:47 pm

  13. I’ve missed my visits to your blog… besides the house being in an uproar, I lost internet service at the end of the week last week and was then out of town for two days (took my laptop thinking I’d visit blogs but forgot the power cord!)…

    Excuses done… (or is it a reason)… I am now here to tell you that the Camas are lovely! (the bull snake is a cutie pie, I’d have moved him too as I’ve no fear of snakes UNLESS they are the poisonous kind)

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    Comment by Victoria — May 22, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

    • Lost internet service! I thought that happened only out here on the frontier! LOL! I’m rather partial to the blue Camas. For some reason those blossoms really appeal to me probably because I’ve seen them completely cover very large meadows.

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      Comment by montucky — May 22, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

      • If you drive Hwy 200 through the Blackfoot Valley at just the right time, you can see several of these blue meadows that present a mirage of sorts: they look exactly like standing water reflecting the sky.

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        Comment by Kim — May 23, 2011 @ 8:40 am

        • I’ve seen those a long time ago. Haven’t been through there for ages!

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          Comment by montucky — May 23, 2011 @ 4:18 pm


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