Camas subspecies and flowering habitats

Sun, 12 May 2013 19:41:47 PDT
I'm running around this spring to verify identification of Camas species seed I collected last 2 years and am now growing at the farm. Also my new salt water transportation <> is giving me access to rocky islands in the San Juan Archipelago of Washington again after 15 years.  These sites are currently in a profusion of bloom before they turn brown in our normal summer drought. Next 2 weeks I will be traveling to east slope of cascades to check my camas seed collections in those habitats. At the farm these 1 and 2 year seedlings  are showing sometimes very different growth habits. It will be interesting to see how these different strains of camas sort out in cultivation. 

Most common westside C. quamash is ssp azurea, as found on shallow or sandy soils in SW Washington. I have been looking for this subspecies in the San Juans but so far have only found C. quamash ssp quamash  here<> here<> and here<> on saddlebag island near Anacortes Wa. In fertile deep soils or SW Washington we are finding C. quamash ssp maxima. My friend Steve collects seed for us here <> from this pasture where the farmer does not graze or mow for hay until camas seed pods are ripe. The flower stalks are larger than C. q. ssp azurea as here <> . Other than wet meadows this subspecies is also known from rocky bluffs. 

I'm wondering how much the distribution of these species and subspecies is anthropogenic given the wide use by native cultures of Camas for food especially before the introduction of the potato and market sweeteners. I've been growing a strain of Camassia leichtleinii for 20 years I collected from rocky outcrop on a series of Islets near Bellingham at this place here <>. It's normally found in deep, wet places as swails and this habitat seems out of place. Corresponding with a botanist at UW I am informed however that C. leichtleinii ssp suksdorfii is 'common in the SJ islands especially the western parts'. Looking close at this former picture we see many young bulbs surrounded by flowering mature bulbs at the edges. I'm convinced the local tribal people or some other parties have been harvesting bulbs here as my visits to this place 15 years ago showed uniform populations.  It shows good harvesting technique and healthy recovery. Here is the C. leichtl
 einii blooming on the rocks <>. This strain as contrasted to the same subspecies in the Williamette Valley, Oregon , (uniform deep blue) varies from pale blue to deep blue and violet with occasional pure white flowers. At the farm my crop of Williamette ss C. l. suksdorfii is blooming heavy for first time, here <> and here <>. 

This diversity of native camas and native plants in general is what fascinates me most. And always to see associated perennials and annuals as paintbrush, death camas here <> and Fritilaria affinis here<> , Lomatium utriculatum here <> and this wonderful shoreside and prairie annual Plectritis congesta here<>.

 Rich Haard, Bellingham, Washington

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