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Camassia sp.

1/30/2023 4:09 pm

Camassia leichtlinii - Great Camas


Camassia leichtlinii is a bulb that brings both high drama and structure to the garden. Growing 2 to 4 feet high, its tall blue spearheads of flowers standout in late spring and early summer. There is a blue form (cerulea) as well as a white and some shades in between. C. leichtlinii is not picky about soil. It withstands wet, clay, dry and even the deadly zone underneath black walnut -- the ultimate test of plant survival. That said, spring rains are important to blooming. Otherwise, Camassia leichtlinii is not fussy and is long lived. Mine are in year 9 and I have never given supplemental water to them.


Camassia grows in part shade to full sun. Many vendors tag these as "deer resistant," but literature contradicts this as does personal experience. For the first six or seven years, the deer never touched mine.Then they did. Some years they do, some years they don't. When I remember, I spray them with Deer Off as soon as I see the flower buds begin.


Camassia benefit by having an evergreen background to help show the flowers better. After blooming, the strong, tall, upright stalks are not particularly attractive, so interplanting is also advised. Chanticleer Garden has done effective displays with Camassia mixed with Delphinium and tall Allium.


Camassia leichtlinii is native to the Northwest and it, along with Camassia quamash, is frequently used in prairie restoration projects. It is attractive to a wide variety of pollinators including European honeybees, bumble bees, mason bees, hover flies, beetles, and lady beetles.


Camas bulbs were and remain a critical part of the diet and commerce of Native Americans.  Traditionally, bulbs were slow pit cooked for 24-36 hours to bring out the sweetness. Stalks and leaves were used for making mattresses. Camas is still used by the Nez Perce as a cough medicine. Today, Camas bulbs are usually boiled.


Camas bulbs are best planted in fall, when the temperatures are steadily below 60 degrees.


- Liane Schleifer