Flowers with 6 tepals (3 petals and 3 petal-like sepals), white to bluish white or lavender, fragrant, as many as 50 on a long flower stalk to 2 feet tall. Blooms April–May. Leaves basal, narrow, less than ½ inch wide, tapering to a point, flattened, with a raised midrib on the undersurface, or sometimes folded lengthwise in the lower half; there may also be up to 2 narrow, bractlike leaves on the stem below the lowest flowers. Rootstocks bulbs. Lacks the odor of onion or garlic.
Similar species: C. angusta, also called wild hyacinth, has up to 100 flowers on the flowering stalk (though not all flowers may open at once, with some represented only as stalks with the spent flowers gone), and with 3–24 narrow, bractlike leaves below the lowest flowers. It blooms early May to late June and has more deeply colored flowers than our other wild hyacinth. It occurs in a diagonal, southwest-to-northeast band across the state.
Height: to 2 feet.
Scattered statewide, most common in the Ozarks, but absent from our southeastern counties and apparently absent from the northwestern section.
Habitat and Conservation
Occurs in prairies, rocky slopes, glades, bluff ledges, low, rich upland to bottomland forests, roadsides, and old fields. Our other wild hyacinth, C. angusta, is found primarily in moist upland prairies and savannas, and sometimes in rocky areas. A related plant, quamash or small camas, was an important food for several Native American tribes and for members of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Botanists have long been debating the relationships among the lilies, with some recommending breaking them up into several separate families. New evidence based on molecular studies supports this idea, which would place wild hyacinths into the asparagus family, the Asparagaceae. A more conservative approach keeps them in the lily family, the Liliaceae. Thus books and other references will differ.
The botanical name Camassia and the English “camas” are variants of the Nez Percé word “quamash.” The edible bulbs of this plant were eaten by Native Americans. If you’re thinking about trying some, make sure you can tell the difference between this plant and its poisonous relatives!
Numerous insects, including bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies, are attracted to the nectar in these fragrant flowers. It is likely that mammals, including deer and other herbivores, eat the foliage.