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Blue Camas and Native Geraniums

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camassiaquamasha

Once common, this plant is increasingly rare. Called blue camas or small camas, Camassia quamash, it comes in a variety of colors from almost white to deep blue. It commonly grows in seasonally wet meadows but sometimes can be found in the darnest of spots- like rocky ledges in the Tumwater Canyon. The meadow at Leavenworth Ski Hill is one of the easily accessible areas to see this plant and many others.

It is in the lily family- Liliaceae, and like many lilies has a large bulb which stores energy and helps it to bloom next spring. These bulbs- are like batteries, and they are recharged every year by the plant producing leaves which photosynthesize- drawing energy from the sun.

Blue camas bulbs were an important part of Indian's diets throughout the northwest. The plant was highly prized and its roots widely traded. They are high in carbohydrates, and are sweet tasting when cooked. The Indians used earth ovens to bake them. An earth oven was a hole dug in the ground, layered with hot rocks and often charcoal, and filled with roots and covered in earth that would slowly cook over a couple days.

Although blue camas was an extremely important part of indigenous people's diets, there apparently is none on the Colville Reservation where many of the Indians in this area were removed to. It has never been documented to occur there at least. The Nez Perce War of 1877 began at Camas Prairie in Idaho- a huge meadow that was covered in camas- as the settlers angered in the Indians by allowing thier pigs to uproot the meadow in which they had relied upon for food for many generations.

Needless to say, please don't dig these plants up, or trample their last remaining meadows.

Camas is getting to be better known in the horticultural world, and you can buy the bulbs now (not at the big box stores though). They make a great addition to any garden, and just like other bulbs like tulips, they flower in spring then are dormant for the rest of the year.

If you are really into recycling, reducing and reusing, consider planting a camas meadow to capture and use the grey water from your house. Functional, pretty, and you could eat it if you had to (or wanted to).

Sticky geranium, Geranium viscosissimum, a plant that can be found in meadows, as well as dryer forest habitats. I think this plant has a lot of potential as a great plant for the yard, very pretty, tolerating wet and dry conditions and it is not weedy- unlike many perennial geraniums sold in the stores.

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