Native Plants

Camassia: A Native-Born Beauty

Consider the curious case of camassia. This bulbous beauty hails from North America, yet its presence in cultivated gardens in the United States is infrequent. This is very odd because camassias are reliable plants, not only in performance but also in the positive visual impact they can bring to spring flowerbeds. So, maybe this fall when planting your spring flowering bulbs, think beyond typical plantings of tulips, crocuses and daffodils.

Being native, camassias don’t need to be pampered. Being very pretty, they can add a special enchantment to the spring garden by showing off clusters of star-like flowers on thin, two to three-foot stems surrounded by long, strap-like leaves.

Commercial plant breeders recognized camassia’s potential and have been busy developing many outstanding cultivars that are quite capable of bringing plenty of zing to the springtime landscape.

Need examples?

The popular selection ‘Caerulea’ will dust the spring garden with dazzling sweeps of blue, while ‘Blue Danube’, in spite of its name, has bluish blossoms tinged in a pretty purple. For those lovers of lighter colors, consider the pale, near-white blooms of ‘Alba’. And to add a bit more sass to the garden, strike a harmonious note with ‘Blue Melody’ and its bluish-purple blossoms suspended above feisty, eye-catching variegated foliage. The white-flowering ‘Sacajawea’ also flaunts striped leaves.

A planting location that receives plenty of sun in the morning and some filtered shade in the afternoon is ideal for camassia. Evenly moist garden soil is preferred, but area gardeners will be pleased to know that this tough plant also tolerates heavy clay. In addition, it is one of the few spring-flowering bulbs that will do well in low-lying, moist areas. Finally, add to its positive attributes the fact that it is deer resistant.

Camassias will naturalize in Triangle gardens and come back year after year. An ideal setting is among summertime herbaceous perennials that will rise up and take center stage after this bulb’s bloom spikes and foliage die down.

During the fading autumn is prime planting time for camassias. Bulbs should be planted pointed ends up about four to five inches in the ground and five to six inches apart. After becoming established, a healthy, happy camassia will reproduce both by bulblets forming off the original bulbs and seeds from the flowers.

Camassias aren’t as familiar as tulips, crocuses and daffodils, but this doesn’t mean they are inferior. In fact, having native roots deeply entrenched in this country, they are tough plants able to take some of the roughest treatment Mother Nature can dish out. Come the spring, when their starry blooms open to salute the new growing season, they are nothing short of gorgeous!

Photo courtesy of L.A. Jackson.

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. If you would like to ask L.A. a question about your garden, contact him at:

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