Camassia, also known as quamash or camash, has been an extremely popular garden flower in England and Europe since the late 1800s. Ironically, as this plant is a North American native, it’s seldom seen in gardens in this country.
Its attractive flowers, hardy nature, and easy care make its scarcity in American gardens particularly puzzling. Found naturally in wet meadows and along stream banks throughout the Pacific Northwest, Camassia is one of the few bulbs that tolerate moist soil. Blooming in early June, its abundant spires of star-like blue or white flowers fill the gap between spring and summer bloom in the perennial border. Its flowers are delightful in the garden and are also lovely in bouquets and floral arrangements.
Camassia Care & Maintenance
Camassia bulbs must be planted in autumn, at a depth of about 6”. While all the energy needed for the first year of growth is contained in the bulb, it’s helpful to add bulb fertilizer when planting to supply nutrients for the following season.
After blooming is complete, the foliage begins to yellow and wither. It’s important to allow the foliage to fully die back before removing it. The ripening process is necessary for the health of the bulb.
Partnering Camassia with companion perennials such as daylilies, dwarf beebalm, or coneflowers will camouflage the aging foliage.
Camassia is long-lived and will increase gradually from the base, as well as self-seeding modestly.
History & Folklore
Camassia bulbs were an important food source for the Native American communities of the Pacific Northwest. The bulbs have a high sugar content and were dried and ground into a meal that stored well as a winter food source. In the winter of 1805, the Lewis & Clark expedition was nearing starvation in their travels through the Bitterroot Mountains and might not have survived had they not been introduced to Camassia as a food source by their Shoshone guide, Sacagawea.
Camassia in a Nutshell
Mature height: 18”-30”
Mature spread: 6”
Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade
Growth form: Upright, vertical flowering stalks with long, slender leaves
Flowers: Star-like blue or white flowers along the stems, opening from the bottom of the stalk upward.