Camassia (Small Camas)

Puts on a dazzling display as early bulbs fade but before summer flowers bloom

The Camassia genus contains bulbous perennials, commonly called camas, with small camas (C. quamash) being the most popular for home gardens. Spring flowering, small camas puts on a long-lasting, dazzling display in mid/late spring to early summer, typically as early flowering bulbs are beginning to fade but before summer flowers have begun to bloom. Borne on spires of stout, willowy stems, the long, loosely flowered racemes open from bottom to top. The slender-petaled, star-shaped blue blooms are unusually vivid and have a green center and yellow stamens. But other Camassia species offer flowers in shades of violet-blue, lavender, pink, cream, and white. The flowers sit above a basal cluster of bright green grasslike leaves and make nice cuts for bouquets.

Camassia is a genus of 6 species native to North America, growing naturally in seasonally moist, open habitats, such as mountain grasslands and prairies. These plants range in height from 1 to 4 feet and have a spread of about 1 to 2 feet. The species found growing wild in western regions of the U.S., especially the Northwest, include C. quamash (small camas, common camas, quamash, Indian camas, Indian hyacinth); C. cusickii (Cusick’s camas); C. howellii (Howell’s camas); and C. leichtlinii (large camas, great camas). C. angusta (prairie camas) is indigenous to the southern Great Plains and mid-Mississippi Valley, and C. scilloides (Atlantic camas, wild hyacinth, bear grass) occurs natively in eastern and central U.S.

Small camas is cold hardy, tough, and long-lived. Remarkably easy to grow, it prefers sunny to sun-dappled locations with moist, humusy, well-draining soil, having a slightly acidic pH. The plant is generally unbothered by diseases or pests, including deer and rodents. Although small camas is great for gardens, it multiplies freely and is perfect for naturalizing, especially in open meadows.