By Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
Nothing is quite as interesting as the Camassia lily, also known as camas lily. Botanist Leslie Haskin notes that, “There is more romance and adventure clustered about the camas root and flower than about almost any other American plant.” Tribal wars and family feuds erupted over disputes about ownership of camas fields, which were so extensive they were described as looking like large, deep-blue “lakes.” Let’s learn more about Camassia lily bulb growing.
What is Camassia?
The Camassia lily bulb (Camassia quamash) is a beautiful spring blooming, native North American plant that will grow in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 – 8. This pretty flowering bulb is a member of the asparagus family and was an important food staple for early explorers to our country.
Settlers, who discovered how nutritious these bulbs were, would toss them into pits with wet grass and roast them for two nights. They were also stewed and made into a pie similar to a squash or pumpkin pie. The bulbs can also be pounded to make flour and even molasses.
This attractive plant is a member of the Lily family and sports either bright blue or white flowers on an erect stalk. The bulb has an interesting appearance and is covered in black bark.
Sadly, wild and well-enjoyed Camassia bulbs are not seen in masses like they once were. However, it can still be found in common gardens throughout our country.
How to Grow Camas Lily Plants
Camassia lily bulb growing is really quite easy. The best time to plant these beauties is in the fall or early winter. Camassia plants prefer moist conditions and full sun to partial shade.
Although you can plant seeds, they will take up to 3 years to bloom. If time is not an issue, you can scatter the seeds on the prepared soil and cover with 2 inches of organic mulch. Plant a minimum of 20 seeds per square foot for best results.
If you are planting bulbs, the soil depth should be 4 to 6 inches, depending on bulb maturity. The bulb, which pushes a central stalk through the ground in early spring, will bloom blue or white. New varieties even offer plants with variegated leaves.
Caring for Camas Plants
Camas plant care is quite easy thanks partially to the fact that they disappear soon after blooming. The plant returns to the ground to return again next year, no special handling is required. Because they are early bloomers, camas should be planted with other perennials that will fill in their spaces once they are done blooming – daylilies work great for this.
If you wish to eat the bulbs, summer is a great time to harvest. They can be stored for many months if dried but should be used within a few days if fresh.