Camassia Natural Area

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.

Camassia quamash


(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): /preserves/art6795.html

For information on The Nature Conservancy, go to:

Published in: Uncategorized on April 9, 2007 at 9:39 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I am so impressed that you can stand on your head! (If indeed, you literally did that.) I have never been able to accomplish same. Once, however, in gym class, after four years of trying to stand on my hands, I did it, and up on my hands, screamed, “Miss Lenker, Miss Lenker, Look!” She was so excited: one of the dorks was standing on her head, afterall! She ran over, and as she approached it dawned on me that I had no idea how to get down, and she arrived as I fell on my head. She just walked away, shaking her head. I’m sure I was a trial for her! (But, I was totally honest, so I could be the scribe to record the entire class’ accomplishments climbing ropes, doing tricks on the leather horse thing, the trampoline, and assorted somersaults, and such. AND, I always made sure my sneaks were clean, socks were fresh, an gymsuit was ironed, so I did pass gym!

  2. Oh, also, thank you for the flower photos…it snowed again last night through the night and into the early morning. Didn’t accumulate much, but covered everything. The Gulf Rd., a steep dirt road over the ridge behind our house, the shortest way to the “highway” (read paved road) was a sheet of ice. John emailed me once he got to work to let me know he got 2/3 of the way up it, and the traction stopped (Last week, he took his snowtires off; surely we were finished needing them…guess not!) and started to back down, slid into a snowbank (thank God, not into the 20 foot deep gully on the opposite side of the road) and got some help from a neighbor down at the bottom of the hill, who, along with his employees (they are masons, hadn’t left yet for the day’s work), pulled him out, and turned the car around, so he could go back down the hill, and around, the long way to the “highway”. It was very slick on the driveway this morning, as the first snow to fall melted and turned to ice when the temps dropped in the night. Spring will come, I’m sure, sometimes mid-May, in all probability. So, it’s nice to enjoy yours!

  3. It may be that I did not actually STAND on my head. But my head was on the ground, and my rump was higher, and it felt like all the blood was arriving between my eyeballs. That’s probably as close as I have come to headstanding for some years. Or am likely to attain any time in the future. As I remember it, we did walk around on our hands as kids. I didn’t like headstanding much. It hurt. But I liked walking on my hands. Our legs were probably all spraddled out and uncomely, but I remember I could cross our lawn and go up the one step to the porch, and my mother would cry out to us to stop it or we’d fall over and break the window. I could not go down the step. I could pogo stick, too, and walk on stilts.

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