Yesterday, on a dash to town for sacks of feed, I took a moment to detour into West Linn and park beside the Nature Conservancy’s Camassia Natural Area. This 26-acre patch of woodland, wetland, and grassland tucked around exposed granite boulders lies right among the neighborhood streets of West Linn. The Nature Conservancy has purchased the parcel, where several rare or endangered NW plants make their homes. The preserve takes its name from the common camas plant . This is the little bulb, Camassia quamash, beneath a glorious blue bloom that was a substantial part of the diet of northwestern natives.
(Linguistic note: the name Camassia quamash is a nice combination of English and native locution. Both parts of the binomial are the same word transcribed according to the best inclinations of differing ears. On 20 September, 1805, William Clark made this entry in the journals of the expedition of the Corps of Discovery:
…[The Pierced Noses] gave us a Small piece of Buffalow meat, Some dried Salmon beries & roots… Some round and much like an onion which they call quamash.
From this record of the word “quamash” comes the English Camas, and from that the Latin genus name Camassia.)
It’s still a little early for the grand bloom of the camas plants, but I was lucky. The lowest elevation meadow is just entering camas bloom. About 100 feet added elevation and the plants are still mostly grassy leaves hidden among the grassy grasses.
The Natural Area is a study in elevation change. It’s a small piece, really, but you start in woodland, progress through soggy wetland, and emerge onto an open bluff studded with erratic granite boulders imported from Canada by the Bretz floods. And here among the exposed little plants you will find the blue camas.
(Culinary note: Camassia quamash is sometimes called “black camas.” Preparation of camas bulb by steaming requires long cooking, originally in a pit. As the starch in the bulb converts to digestible fructose, it changes color, becoming black. Warning: the toxic bulb of Zigadenus sp., also known as Death Camas, grows in many of the same areas as Camassia, and is difficult to distinguish except when the plants are in bloom. Experimental harvesting of camas for table use is not recommended.)
I was fortunate in another siting. Along the path to the camas meadow, I passed a clump of rare white fawn lily, Erythronium albidum.
Because these nod toward the ground, you have to stand on your head to get a photo inside the flower. Or cheat and turn its face up to the sun. I opted to stand on my head. This is the slug’s-eye view of the fawn lily.
For information on the Camassia Natural Area, follow this link (long one: paste if you have to):
For information on The Nature Conservancy, go to: http://www.nature.org