The Camassia

  • General Knowledge
  • Different kinds of Camassia
  • The Camassia Bulb
  • Planting the Camassia
  • Taking Care of the Camassia
  • Soil Type and Nutrition
  • Where to plant the Camassia
  • Digging and Re-Planting the Camassia
  • Camassia: Edible?

General Knowledge

Originally, the Camassia comes from the western part of North America. She finds her natural habitat in large parts of what used to be called the Wild West. This special heritage gives her the nickname ‘Prairie Lily’.

She has been present in the Dutch flower world for over a hundred years, but it was the German botanist Max Leichtlin who introduced her in Europe. The Camassia leichtlinii owes her name to this enthusiastic botanist who knew right away that the Camassia was going to do extremely well in our European climate.

But despite her dazzling blue colour and excellent characteristics for gardening, the Camassia remained a fairly unknown flower, that was only available at specialized seed- and flower bulb shops. It was only after the Natural Garden began to make its appearance in the flower bulb- and gardening world that the Camassia started to gain some popularity. She really does deserve her newfound attention, because this is an indestructible flower bulb with a unique colour. She simply never disappoints.

As of today, she is a regular in any landscapist’s collection. Besides the natural gardens, she is starting to appear in more formal settings as well. I have seen her shine in parks and borders.

The Camassia owes a considerable part of her success to the Brothers Hulsebosch. At their nursery in the North-Holland village of Schagerbrug these men have spent the last ten years growing, promoting and selling the Camassia. Together with their sons Nick and Ron they make sure that different kinds of high-quality Camassia are available to the public and the flower bulb trade.

Like me, Frank is completely awestruck by the Camassia. “It is such a rewarding flower bulb in the garden”, says Frank. “In our nursery she does very well too, and she is easy to grow,” he goes on. “There is no special treatment needed, she barely suffers from any diseases. The only thing you have to be mindful of is damaging the Camassia bulbs while digging and processing them, but that is something we have mastered by now.”

Different kinds of Camassia

The most common Camassia is the Camassia leichtinii. Of these Camassia’s, the Camassia leichtinii Cearulea is the most grown and sold variety. This Camassia leichtinii also comes in white: the Camassia leichtinii Alba.

Then there is the Camassia leichtlinii Sacajawea. The Sacajawea has, beside her beautiful white colour, even more graceful characteristics: she has a pretty silver lining along her leafs, which makes her look like prairie grass.

The Camassia leichtlinii Semiplena is the white Camassia with the double flowers. This is the Camassia that blooms for the longest period of time: this is mostly due to the double flowers.

A newcomer is the pink version of the Camassia: Camassia leichtlinii Pale Pink. A special colour among Camassia’s, but if you ask me, there is some room for improvement when it comes to her pink colour.

The Camassia cusickii is the pretty light blue Camassia. Especially the Camassia cusickii Blue Heaven has a phenomenally beautiful soft blue colour, which is unparalleled when it comes to Spring-blooming bulbs.

There is also the Camassia quamash. She used to be sold with the name Camassia esculenta. She may be a little less notable in the garden, but when it comes to naturalization, she is one of the best bulbs. If you have a (partly) natural garden to attract bees and other insects, then this Camassia is a must have for you. Bees simply adore Camassia quamash.

The Camassia Bulb

Do not be alarmed by the looks of the Camassia bulb: she just did not hit the jackpot when it came to looks. If I am being honest, her bulbs are quite ugly. This is because the Camassia does not have the skin that Tulips, Hyacinths and Alliums have. The Camassia comes out of the ground almost totally naked and even with the lightest of touches, the bulb excretes some sort of brownish wax, which makes small pieces of crust form on the flower bulb.

The Camassia’s you receive from Fluwel will also have these brown crusts on it, which will make them look damaged. Please do not doubt her quality when you see this: they will grow just fine. I have seen my fair share of dramatic-looking Camassia’s that made even me wonder whether they were going to actually bloom, and they always did. I have even cut a few of the really ugly ones in half to see if they were maybe ill, but they always appeared to be perfectly healthy. It seems the Camassia is rarely ill, no matter how unhealthy she may appear.

Planting the Camassia

Plant your Camassia at a depth of about 15 centimeters, with 10 centimeters of soil on top of the bulb. Make sure to keep some distance in between the bulbs: they will return for many years to come, and every year, there will be a little bit more of her. If you were to plant them grouped together like you would with tulips, they will soon prevent each other from reaching their full potential.

Give them some space, plant the bulbs at least 30 centimeters apart. The Camassia also looks good in a plant border, in which you could plant a Camassia every meter or so. Over the years they will grow up to be beautiful tufts that give your border a cool blue or warm white colour.

Taking Care of the Camassia

Like the Daffodil, the Camassia could be called a perennial as well as a flower bulb. She is a tough one that barely requires any care. Just plant her somewhere in the garden and leave her alone. She will happily come back every year, to be spoiled by bees with pollen and nectar.

Soil Type and Nutrition

I often read that the Camassia would prefer moist, heavy types of soil. My own experience however is that the Camassia is not picky at all when it comes to the type of soil she is planted in. In my garden she does just fine in the dry, sandy soil I have and I meet Camassia’s everywhere, in any normal garden, and they always bloom perfectly nice. When it comes to nutrition, there is no need to worry either. If she is in a reasonably humus-containing soil where all your other plants and bushes also grow, then the Camassia will not stay behind and won’t ask for any extra nutrition.

Placement

The Camassia grows well in both completely sunny and completely overshadowed areas. I prefer to plant her in places where she gets some shadow for the most part of the day, as her flowers are not very durable, especially not in sunny places. When she is planted in a shadowy area, you can enjoy her flowers for a little while longer. I also feel that the blue colour of the Camassia comes out better in the shadow. Planted half underneath leaf-losing trees is perfect. When the moment comes that the trees are starting to become green again, the Camassia also starts to bloom, which gives her just that bit of shadow.

Other than this, there are very few risks when it comes to planting Camassia’s, and therefore, I don’t have a lot of other advice either. The Camassia is simply one of the easiest flower bulbs to plant. Just give it a shot, you might just make a friend for life.

Digging and Re-Planting the Camassia

The Camassia does not need to be dug and needs no special treatment to come back to your garden next year. Just like the daffodil, she feels at home in the soil.

If you do want to dig your Camassia’s to give them a different spot or because they are starting to become too large for your liking, you can do so as well. As soon as the leafs have died out, somewhere in July, you can take them out of the ground. Be careful with the bulbs, as they bruise easily. If the bulbs have grown their own cluster of baby flower bulbs, you can carefully break those apart, this will not hurt the bulb. If you do not plant them back right away, make sure to store them dry and with lots of air. They do not need any special temperature, summer temperature is fine as long as the Camassia’s get enough fresh air. During the summer of autumn, you can re-plant the Camassia’s.

Camassia: Edible?

If you ever heard someone say that the Camassia is edible, they were talking about the Camassia quamash.

These small Camassia’s grow naturally in parts of western North America. She was mostly eaten by Native Americans. The small bulb of the Camassia quamash is very strong and she could be stored well, which made her perfect to eat during the winter months. Especially in the northern part of the Wild West, where winters were long and cold, the Camassia was a welcome addition to the winter menu.

I do hope to learn how the Native Americans prepared their Camassia quamash, because I would love to try it myself some day.