Camassia scilloides

Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: wild hyacinth 
Type: Bulb
Family: Asparagaceae
Native Range: Central and eastern North America
Zone: 4 to 8
Height: 1.00 to 3.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Pale blue to white flowers
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Flower: Showy, Good Cut
Tolerate: Drought, Clay Soil, Black Walnut

Culture

Best grown in moist, fertile, acidic, humusy, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Does best in full sun, but easily tolerates open woodland conditions. Plant bulbs 4-6” deep and 6” apart in fall. Tolerates clay soils. Plants need regular moisture during the periods of spring growth and bloom, but will tolerate drier conditions after bloom as the plants head for summer dormancy. Best left undisturbed once planted. In the alternative, plants can be grown from seed, but will not bloom until the 3rd or 4th year.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Camassia scilloides, commonly known as wild hyacinth, eastern camas or Atlantic camas, is a spring-flowering bulbous perennial that typically grows to 1-2’ (less frequently to 3’) tall. It is native to a variety of habitats including low rich woods, wet open woodlands, open meadows, stream banks, limestone glades, ledges, rocky slopes and prairies, often on calcareous soils, from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin south to Georgia and Texas.

Narrow, linear, grass-like, sharp-pointed leaves (to 12” long by 1/2” wide) form a basal foliage clump from which rises a naked flowering stalk to 2’ tall topped by a terminal raceme (4-12” long) of fragrant, pale blue to white flowers which bloom sequentially from the bottom of the raceme to the top in April-May. Each flower (to 1” across) has 6 linear to elliptic tepals, 6 yellow-anthered stamens, and a green ovary with a central style. Each raceme typically holds up to 20 flowers. Each fertilized flower gives way to a 1/3” seed capsule. Basal leaves turn yellow and wither after flowering as plant appearance declines on its way to a mid-summer dormancy.

Bulbs of several different species of Camas, including the within species, once served as an important food for several different native American Indian tribes plus early settlers and explorers of North America.

The bulbs of C. scilloides are edible (raw, baked, roasted or boiled) and were once a significant food source for some native American Indians and early North American explorers/settlers. However, it should be noted that the bulbs of a very similar plant commonly known as death camas (Zygadenus nuttallii) are very poisonous if ingested. Unfortunately the bulbs of these two genuses are sometimes difficult to distinguish from each other by observation.

Genus name is derived from the Native American Indian name of kamas or quamash for a genus plant whose bulb was once used by native Americans and settlers as a food source.

Specific epithet is in reference to a purported resemblance between plants of the genus Camassia with plants of the genus Scilla.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Plants stems are strong and seldom need support.

Garden Uses

Mass or plant in groups of at least 15 bulbs in wildflower meadows, open woodland areas or borders. May not deserve a prominent place in the border, however, since foliage becomes rather scruffy in appearance after bloom on its way to mid-summer dormancy. May also be utilized as an accent on the periphery of a water garden or pond.