Great Camas

Camassia leichtlinii ssp. suksdorfii- Great camas

At a Glance:

tall purple flowers of great camas bulb
  • Family: Asparagaceae
  • Plant Type: Flowering bulb
  • Distribution: Mostly Pacific Coast, California to British Columbia
  • Habitat: meadows, prairies, and hillsides that have moist early springs, can be cultivated like the ones on UWB/CC campus.
  • Height: 0.5 – 1.2m tall
  • Flower: Many flowers grow along the stalk/raceme. Flowers are purple/violet/deep blue with 6 petals (tepals).
  • Flowering Season: April – May
  • Leaves: green and fleshy, growing basally
  • Generation: Perennial, dies back during winter
  • Notable feature: Tepals (petals) twist around ovary (developing seed), rather than falling off after flowering like other camas.

Restoration and Conservation

Great camas is a facultative wetland plant meaning it is commonly found growing in wetland habitats and moist meadows. Elk, deer and moose graze the leaves in early spring. Gophers eat the camas bulbs and aid in the plant’s reproduction by breaking up and dividing the bulbs, and also caching them in other areas allowing them to reestablish in a new place. Great camas is an important flower for pollinating insects in prairie habitats. It is also a popular landscaping plant.


The camas root is one of the most important foods to western North American native people. Camas root was often traded and people would travel great distances to find and harvest it. Camas root is considered to be semi-agricultural by some. Families could own patches of land where only they could harvest the root. People would prepare the areas where it grew by weeding, clearing, and in some cases burning the area. The roots were harvested at certain times of the year, mostly during the summer after the camas had flowered, but some harvested it in the spring. The harvesting technique of camas also helped its growth, by overturning the soil to find the roots the soil was kept loose allowing for easier growth. Camas root did not keep fresh very long and were sun dried to preserve them. The dried bulbs were rehydrated overnight and also used in cooking as a sweetener.

References and Resources

This article was written by Jessica Rouske and Sarah Verlinde. For questions regarding the UWB/CC Plant Tour, contact Sarah at