Camassia cusickii is a robust clump-forming bulbous perennial with an explosion of long linear leaves and stunning sky blue flowers arranged on a very tall-stemmed raceme. A large clump or drift of Camassia cusickii in flower in late Spring is a very joyous sight. The spires of six-petalled starlike flowers can grow as a much as metre in height and the icy blue colour is contrasted vividly by golden yellow anthers on long delicate filaments. It is a flower that somehow soothes the soul yet feeds the imagination.
Unlike Camassia quamarsh, however, which was a staple food of the Nez Perce and other First Nations tribes, Camassia cusickii does not feed the stomach and it contains a number of steroidal saponins which contribute to its bitter taste. It is endemic to an extremely limited global range restricted to Wallowa and Baker Counties in Oregon where it grows on the southern and eastern side of the Wallowa Mountains in the southern end of Hells Canyon down to the Snake River with some populations also found on the Idaho side of the Snake River in Adams and Washington Counties. It grows on steep rocky slopes at elevations between 900-1800m on sites that are open and saturated in the spring from seepage from the basaltic mountains above and which are completely dry by the middle of summer. This is the cultivation regime that Camassia cusickii thrives on: good drainage, a wet spring and a dry summer period for it to regain its energy for the following winter.
In 2009 the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group in their APG III classification rather surprisingly reclassified Camassia in the Agavoideae. This approach uses DNA sequencing to establish hereditary molecular differences and build up an evolutionary tree of associated taxa. Such a broad definition of Agavoideae does seem somewhat unsatisfactory but that is taxonomy for you!
Meanwhile, back in the relative peace of the garden, it would be hard to find such an impressive blue-flowering bulb for the late spring as Camassia cusickii and it is a plant that deserves to be more widely grown.
Makes an excellent and unusual cutflower.
|Geographical Origin||USA: Oregon and Idaho|
|Cultivation||Full sun. Also tolerates some shade. Good drainage. Likes to be kept moist in Spring and dry in Summer|
|Eventual Height||Established clumps can produce racemes to 1m|
|Eventual Spread||Clumping to 60cm|
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