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Camassia leichtlinii ‘Sacajawea’ – Variegated camas

Camassia leichtlinii ‘Sacajawea’, variegated camas, is native to the western United States and British Columbia. Camassia leichtlinii is found in persistently wet areas in the riparian zones and meadows of the western mountains of North America.

The blue-flowered species is distributed from western Canada, through Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada. The white form is found only in the Umpqua Valley in Oregon.

Camas’ prefers sunny exposures with consistently wet soils. It is at home in wetlands and has some adaptability, as it can be found in the shade in Oregon. In Georgia, I have seen it growing in gardens in regular soil outside of wetland areas.

This cultivar is named after Sacajawea, credited with being an invaluable part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Camassia leichtlinii
Camassia leichtlinii

If you want to grow camas, you will need to order it from a specialty vendor online. You will receive bulbs which I’d recommend planting fairly close together, six to eight inches apart. I’ve never seen it offered in a nursery.

Camassia leichtlinii ‘Sacajawea’ prefers persistently wet soils and will go dormant as the drier summer season arrives in its native range.

It will not tolerate dry soil conditions. Variegated camas will, however, tolerate being planted near black walnut, Juglans nigra. Black walnut roots produce juglone, a toxin which is a means of eliminating competition from other plants.

You can grow variegated camas in zones 3-9. Winter hardiness is outstanding.

It flowers in spring, typically reaching peak bloom in late April in Georgia. Camassia leichtlinii ‘Sacajawea’ has white-star shaped single-form flowers with purple-tipped stamens. Semi-Plena is another white cultivar more commonly found online. Semi-plena has creamy white double flowers and white stamens. Flowers are smaller than the species. They are  1″-2″ wide.

Camassia - white camas
Young Camassia Sacajawea in a garden setting.

Camassia leichtlinii ‘Sacajawea’ is notable for its variegated leaves.

Besides the variegation, the leaves are strap-like and reminiscent of coarse grass. The plants I photographed are lightly variegated. Camassia leichtlinii forms two-foot clumps with flower stalks rising three feet or so. The flowers, similar to gladioli, open sequentially starting from the bottom of the flower stalk. This allows a longer window of opportunity for pollinators to visit.

After flowering, Camassia begins to go into dormancy. It is considered an ephemeral. Plant it where later emerging perennials can hide Cammas leichtlinii’s foliage, which deteriorates after flowering is complete.

It will slowly spread into a larger clump. You can plant the seed but it will be at least two seasons before it flowers.

Of note:
Camas leichtlinii was an important food for native American Indians, who harvested and ate the bulbs. This is not a recommended practice as it is very easy to confuse Camas leichtlinii with deathcamas (Zigadenus venenosus). Deathcamas can be fatal if eaten.

-Camas leichtlinii is a valuable ecological resource. Bees and many pollinators visit it. Elk and deer graze camas (Craighead et al.,1963).
-Camas County, Idaho, as well as Camas Street in Boise, are named for this native perennial of western North America.

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