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Camassia quamash - (Pursh.)Greene.

Common Name Quamash, Small camas, Utah small camas, Walpole's small camas
Family Hyacinthaceae
USDA hardiness 3-7
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Coastal mountain forests and wet meadows inland[60, 62]. Marshy meadows in coniferous forest, to 2300 metres[90].
Range Western N. America - Washington to California, east to Montana and Utah.
Edibility Rating    (5 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (1 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Camassia quamash Quamash, Small camas, Utah small camas, Walpole

Camassia quamash Quamash, Small camas, Utah small camas, Walpole


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of bulb
Camassia quamash is a BULB growing to 0.3 m (1ft) by 0.2 m (0ft 8in).
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 3 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen from July to August. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


C. esculenta. Lindl.

Plant Habitats

 Lawn; Meadow; Cultivated Beds;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Root
Edible Uses:

Bulb - raw or cooked[62, 95]. The bulb, which can be up to 5cm in diameter[270], has a mild, starchy flavour when eaten raw, but a gummy texture that reduces the enjoyment of it somewhat[K]. When cooked, however, it develops a delicious sweet flavour somewhat like sweet chestnuts[92], and is a highly nutritious food[2]. Excellent when slow baked, it can also be dried and made into a powder which can be used as a thickener in stews or mixed with cereal flours when making bread, cakes etc[K]. The bulbs can be boiled down to make a molasses, this was used on festival occasions by various Indian tribes[2, 183]. The bulbs can be harvested at any time of the year[85], but are probably best in early summer when the seeds are ripe[94]. One report says that the bulbs contain inulin (a starch that cannot be digested by humans) but that this breaks down when the bulb is cooked slowly to form the sugar fructose which is sweet and easily digested[256]. Quamash bulbs were a staple food of the N. American Indians[42, 92]. The tribes would move to the Quamash fields in the early autumn and, whilst some people harvested the bulbs, others would dig a pit, line it with boulders then fill it with wood and set fire to it. The fire would heat the boulders and the harvested bulbs would then be placed in the pit and the whole thing covered with earth and the bulbs left to cook slowly for 2 days. The pit would then be opened and the Indians would feast on the bulbs until they could no longer fit any more in their stomachs. Whatever was left would be dried and stored for winter use.

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Birthing aid  Oxytoxic

A decoction of the roots has been used to induce labour[257]. An infusion of the leaves has been used to treat vaginal bleeding after birth and to help expel the placenta[257].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Notable Products: Nectar, pollen, edible bulb. Attracts Wildlife - flowers attract beneficial insects. Grown as an ornamental plant.

Special Uses

Attracts Wildlife  Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Succeeds in almost any soil[42]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers a rather heavy loam[1] that has plenty of moisture in spring but does not remain wet over the winter[138, 200]. Dislikes dry soils[200]. Prefers full sun but tolerates partial shade[138, 200]. The dormant bulbs are very hardy and will withstand soil temperatures down to at least -10°c[214]. Quamash is a very pretty flowering bulb that has quite a large potential as an edible ornamental plant[K]. It grows very well in the flower border but can also be naturalised in damp grass[134]. We are intending to grow it in a grassed-down orchard in our Cornish trial ground. The bulbs flower in late spring and early summer and have completely died down by early July so they do not interfere with harvesting the apple crop. The grass in the orchard will be cut in early spring before the quamash comes into growth, but will not be cut again until July. The bulbs will be harvested at any time from July to December and, since it is impossible to find all the bulbs, it is hoped that those remaining will be able to increase and supply bulbs for future years[K]. A polymorphic and very ornamental plant[1], there are some named varieties[200]. The subspecies C. quamash maxima has larger bulbs than the type, up to 65mm in diameter[270]. A good bee plant[108]. This species can be confused with certain poisonous bulbs in the genus Zigadenus[85]. Plant the bulbs 7 - 10cm deep in early autumn and then leave undisturbed[1]. The plant is heat tolerant in zones 12 through 1. (Plant Hardiness Zones show how well plants withstand cold winter temperatures. Plant Heat Zones show when plants would start suffering from the heat. The Plant Heat Zone map is based on the number of "heat days" experienced in a given area where the temperature climbs to over 86 degrees F (30°C). At this temperature, many plants begin to suffer physiological damage. Heat Zones range from 1 (no heat days) to 12 (210 or more heat days). For example Heat Zone. 11-1 indicates that the plant is heat tolerant in zones 11 through 1.) For polyculture design as well as the above-ground architecture (form - tree, shrub etc. and size shown above) information on the habit and root pattern is also useful and given here if available. The plant growth habit is a runner spreading indefinitely by rhizomes or stolons [1-2]. Ephemeral emerging in spring and dying back by summer every year [1-2]. The root pattern is a bulb.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

Type a value in the Celsius field to convert the value to Fahrenheit:



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Plant Propagation

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame[134]. The seed can also be sown in a cold frame in spring[134]. It usually germinates in 1 - 6 months at 15°c, but it can be erratic[138]. Sow the seed thinly so that it does not need to be thinned and allow the seedlings to grow on undisturbed for their first year. Give an occasional liquid feed to ensure that the plants do not become nutrient deficient. When the plants are dormant in late summer, pot up the small bulbs putting 2 - 3 bulbs in each pot. Grow them on for another one or two years in a cold frame before planting them out when dormant in late summer. Offsets in late summer. The bulb has to be scored in order to produce offsets.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Wild Hyacinth, Camas, small Camas, common Camash or Quamash.

Native Range

NORTHERN AMERICA: Canada, Alberta (south), British Columbia (south), United States, Idaho, Montana (west), Oregon, Washington, Wyoming (west), California (north), Nevada (northwest), Utah (north),

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Camassia cusickiiCussick's camasBulb0.9 3-11 MLMSNM203
Camassia leichtliniiWild Hyacinth, Large camas, Suksdorf's large camasBulb1.0 3-7  LMHSNM40 
Camassia scilloidesAtlantic CamasBulb0.6 6-9  LMHSNM30 

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References


Links / References

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Readers comment

Les Babb   Fri May 4 2007

We have a field of common purple Camas that we would like to put livestock on as there is a lot of clover under the Camas. However there is a white variety there also (about one plant per acer)This has caused a member of the family some concern but I think it is just a sport of the same plant as It seems identical in every respect except color as the purple plants. Some of the plants in the vicenity of the white ones may be lighter purple which leads me to believe they are crossing which shouldn't be possible with the poisonus Zigadenus family. Also there flower structure seems different( longer and narrower petaled than any of the pictures o Death Camas I've found.)

Kyle   Sun Apr 27 2008

Plant Guide, Common Camas great reference for cultivation/restoration infor

kcmarcey   Tue Sep 29 2009

Thanks for this clearly stated article. I am new to this site and wander in to it because I was looking for information on my newly purchased quamash bulbs.

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