Camas bulbs once provided a stable and reliable form of sustenance to many first people of the pacific northwest coast.
A camas plant consists of an oval bulb, grass-like leaves, and a tall stalk of flowers. The bulbs are constructed from densely packed, fleshy leaf bases and are covered in a black to brown tunic. They range from 1.5 to 3.5 cm across to two to five cm long.
In spring, several narrow, slightly folded leaves rise erect from the bulb, but later become lax, reaching 50 to 60 cm long. A stiff flower stalk rises smartly among the leaves. Camas plants have a flower stalk that may reach 100 cm, Several blooms are loosely dispersed around the upper part of the stem.
Six narrow petals form the showy bloom. From its center protrude six stamens and a single prominent pistil. The petals of great camas radiate evenly around the center of the flower. Flower color ranges from a pale bluish hue to intense dark purple. On rare occasions, white flowers can be found in the wild.
Camas begins to flower in March in Victoria, Flowers open progressively up the stem, extending the blooming interval into April and May. In colder inland locations bloom time extends from May to June. The fruit matures during the summer into an elongated rattle-like capsule full of shiny black seeds.
The range of the camas extends from Vancouver Island across southern B.C. to Alberta and south to California. It thrives in moist meadows, prairies, and grassy clearings. Look for it on rocky knolls and near oak trees in the Victoria area. It abounds on the east side of Vancouver Island in pockets of rich soil at the base of rocky knolls and natural clearings in the woods, and you may see it thriving in dry roadside ditches.