How to Grow Camassia

Camassia flowers
Camassia flowers

Camassia bears loose or dense, terminal racemes of large, showy, star-shaped or cup-shaped blue, purple, or white flowers. Camassia grows from a bulb and does well in moist but not waterlogged soil.

Camassia is native to meadows in the Northwest. It’s a natural choice for a wildflower or meadow garden. Camassia is commonly known as camass or quamash–a name derived from Native American words for the plant. Boiled bulbs–which an reach a half pound or more–were an important native American food.

Flowers rise above clumps of narrow, lance-shaped, basal leaves that can grow 12 to 24 inches long.

There are 5 or 6 members of the Camassia genus; all are bulbous perennials.

Camassia leichtlinii blue flowers in the Spring
Camassia leichtlinii blue flowers in the Spring

Get to Know Camassia 

  • Plant type: Bulb 
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 4 to 9 depending on the variety 
  • Hardiness: Hardy to Zone 4
  • Height and width:  1 to 4 feet (.3-1.2m) tall and wide depending on the variety
  • Foliage:  Grasslike basal leaves; leaves are narrow and linear
  • Flowers: Tiny, star-shaped, blue or white blooms in loose or dense terminal racemes
  • Bloom time: Late spring to summer. 
  • Uses: Good in wildflower gardens, cutting gardens, or in borders.   
  • Garden companions: Japanese primrose (Primula japonica). 
  • Common name: Camass, quamash, wild hyacinth
  • Botanical name: Camassia
  • Family name: Liliaceae
  • Origin: Northern California and Northwest

Where to Plant Camassia 

  • Plant Camassia in sun or light shade.  
  • Plant Camassia in moist, well-drained, humus-rich soil.
  • Plant bulbs where they can remain undisturbed for many years.  

When to Plant Camassia 

  • Plant Camassia bulbs in autumn.
  • Sow Camassia seeds in a cold frame as soon as they are ripe.  
Camassia leichtlinii; common name: camass
Camassia leichtlinii; common name: camass

Planting and Spacing Camassia 

  • Plant Camassia bulbs 4 to 5 inches (10-13cm) deep in moist well-drained soil.
  • Plant Camassia 6 to 20 inches (15-50cm) apart.
  • For best effect, arrange bulbs in drifts of a dozen or more.

How to Water and Feed Camassia

  • Camassia want moist but not waterlogged soil during its growing season; dry soil after leaves die back is not a problem.
  • Feed Camassia with an all-purpose bulb food in spring. 

How to Care for Camassia 

  • Allow foliage to naturally die back then remove it.
  • Mark or map where Casmasia grows to avoid overplanting or digging up bulbs.

Camassia Pests and Diseases 

  • Camassia can develop leaf spots and leaf smut. 

Camassia Propagation 

  • So seeds in containers in a cold frame.
  • Remove bulb offsets when dormant in summer and replant them.
Camassia leichtlinii
Camassia leichtlinii

Camassia Varieties to Grow 

  • Camassia cusickii, Camass, has steel blue, plumy flowers on 6 to 18-inch racemes; grows to 2 feet (.6m) tall; best in Zones 3 to 9.  
  • C. leichtliniiI, Leichtlin quamash: grows 2 to 4 feet tall’; bears 6 to 12-inch racemes of creamy white flowers–‘Albla’ has white blooms; cultivar ‘Coerulea’ has dark blue blooms and is 2 to 4 feet (.6-1m) tall.  
  • C. quamash, Quamash, has bright blue flowers. 10 to 30 inches (25-76cm) tall. ‘Orion’ has darker blue, larger flowers. 30 inches (76cm) tall.   
  • C. scilloides, western camassia: grows to 30 inches tall; bears racemes of blue-violet flowers.

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