Camas bulbs thrive in wet, clay soil

Do you avoid planting spring-flowering bulbs because your soil is moist clay and most bulbs require good drainage? Take heart! Camas, a beautiful blue-flowered bulb native to the northwestern U.S. thrives in damp conditions and even heavy clay.

It blooms from late spring into early summer, bearing upright hyacinth-like spikes of starry blue flowers. Camas also produces narrow, straplike, deep green leaves that die back by late summer.

Plant camas bulbs in large drifts in early to midfall for a lovely display the following year. Smaller groups of camas can also be tucked in with moisture-loving shrubs and perennials for an ongoing show.

Common name: Camas, small camas or quamash

Botanical name: Camassia quamash

Plant type: Bulb

Zones: 4 to 8

Height: 18 to 24 inches

Family: Liliaceae

Growing conditions

• Sun: Full sun or partial shade

• Soil: Fertile loam or clay loam with ample organic matter

• Moisture: Evenly moist

Care

• Mulch: None, or 1 inch of fine organic mulch such as pine needles or shredded leaves

• Pruning: None

• Fertilizer: Work in bonemeal or other phosphorus fertilizer before planting bulbs; apply a balanced fertilizer in early spring.

Propagation

• Divide bulb offsets

Pests and diseases

• None

• Camas is resistant to deer and most other mammal pests.

Cultivars

• ‘Blue Melody' has deep blue flowers and yellow-margined leaves.

• ‘Orion' is noted for its dark, violet blue flowers.

Garden notes

• Camas makes a lovely addition to rain gardens, bog gardens and pond edges.

• The fleshy bulbs of camas were used as food by Native Americans and early settlers in the Northwestern U.S.

All in the family

• Camas is usually listed as a member of the lily family (Liliaceae), though it's also been placed in the agave family (Agavaceae) or hyacinth family (Hyacinthaceae). Some taxonomists now place all of those families into the much larger asparagus family (Asparagaceae).

• Lilies, tulips, fritillaries and many other bulbs are included in the lily family.

• Several other Camassia species also make excellent ornamentals, including C. leichtliniiand C. cusickii.

Where to buy

• Brent and Becky's Bulbs, brentandbeckysbulbs.com

• John Scheeper's Beauty from Bulbs, johnscheepers.com

• White Flower Farm, whiteflowerfarm.com