PNW Landscape Plant Guide

brought to you by the plant geeks at Calendula Farm

Camas (Camassia spp.)

Camas has been and still is one of the staple native foodstuffs of indigenous peoples throughout northwestern North America. It grows wild in open prairies and near wetlands surrounded by forests from British Columbia to Northern California and eastward to western Montana. Camas is a beautiful bluish-purple wildflower that grows in great masses from a bulb. The bulbs are the edible parts. In the past, they were a primary trade commodity, exchanged in the form of roasted dried bulbs or as dried mashed ‘cakes’ that could be rehydrated and mixed with other ingredients. Fresh bulbs were traded too, but the dried form extended shelf life and made Camas even more valuable.

Prairies in the Pacific Northwest take the form of clearings surrounded by dense forests of Douglas Fir, Maples, Alder, Cottonwood, and Oaks along with smaller trees like Serviceberry and Vine Maple. The original stewards of this land would manage and control the ever-encroaching trees, especially fast-growing Douglas firs, by selective burning. This also added nutrients to the prairie soil and stimulated new growth of the Camas and other herbs and flowers. They carefully harvested the bulbs, always leaving enough to grow into an abundant harvest the next year. Natural PNW prairies are disappearing rapidly due to development pressure, but you can make your own mini prairie and keep this wonderful plant thriving in the world.

Grass-like leaves emerge in early spring and send up 1-2 foot bloom stalks around May. The stalks are covered in brilliant bluish-purple lily-like flowers that butterflies and bees adore. The bulbs are harvested after flowering. They will multiply year after year into a colony while enjoying the company of other plants. Camas appreciate occasional water in summer and will grow in light shade to full sun.

We have a nice stock of Camas at the nursery now! Open 10-5 Tuesday-Sunday. 5111 36th Ave. E., Tacoma.