The Camas Lily - Camas, WA Namesake now in Full Bloom
Camas is named after the Camas Lily. It creates spectacular displays of color this time of year in moist meadows in the Pacific Northwest. Lewis and Clark made note of it on their return journey home, writing about it in a journal - (note spelling errors are authentic) "...the quamash is now in blume at a Short distance and resembles a lake of fine clear water, So complete is this deseption that on first Sight I could have sworn it was water."
The Camas lily is also called quamash, Indian hyacinth, and wild hyacinth. The blooms vary in color from a pale lilac or white to deep purple or blue violet. Currently, many meadows around Camas are awash in blue violet color. I have to agree with the Lewis and Clark description, it does often resemble a body of clear blue water shimmering in the distance.
Useful, and pretty flowers
Camas bulbs were an important food source to the Pacific Northwest American Native populations. And it was often a central element of feasts and celebrations. The bulbs were layered with grasses and cooked in fire pits for several days. Apparently, the cooked or dried bulbs were almost as valuable as smoked salmon for trading purposes.
The Camas root looks similar to an onion, but is said to taste like pumpkin. It was also used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes and in bread-making. The plants were usually dug in the summer, after flowering, although some people dug them in the spring. Harvesting the bulbs traditionally took weeks or months among the Nez Perce.
Few people today gather the blue camas root for food. And should you feel tempted to harvest a few, keep in mind that its distant cousin looks similar. Known as Death Camas, it can grow right next to fields of Camas lilies. Death Camas can also be mistaken for a Wild Onion - but as it's name suggests, it can be fatally poisonous if ingested.
If you want to see these beautiful meadows in bloom head to the Lacamas Park Lily Field. It's about a 2 and half mile hike, moderate in difficultly, but well worth the effort. Here's a link to a more detailed description of the location for the trailhead. The lovely annual Camas Lily show is in it's prime - you'll have to hurry though, as it won't last for long.