Montana Outdoors

May 10, 2018

Camas

There are many beautiful wildflowers in the Lily Family (Liliaceae); however not all of them are friendly. A day or so ago I encountered two different species of camas that, while they are quite different in outward appearance, they grow from bulbs that are nearly identical. There is a potential problem with that because while one has always been one of the most important “root” foods for the indigenous people of this region, the other one is poisonous and can be deadly.

Common Camas

Common Camas

Common camas, also called small camas or blue camas (Camassia quamash), was (and to some extent continues to be) a very important and prized food. Long ago it was so cherished that Indian wars were fought over select camas meadows and no other food item was more widely traded.

Meadow Death Camus

Meadow Death Camas (Zigadenus venenosus) bulbs and leaves contain an alkaloid, zigadenine, that is poisonous to humans and grazing animals.

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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

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