White Camas

zigadène glauque
White Camas and Butterfly Milkweed in the garden at Beaux Arbres

Botanical Name: Anticlea elegans, formerly Zigadenus glauca

Common Name: White Camas is one of those common names which is not really in common use. The alternative, Mountain Death Camas, (I kid you not) is even less likely to come into common use, and not just because this plant’s habitat, alvars, are really flat. The field botanists I knew affectionately called the thing Ziggy. The name in French is the mellifluous zigadène.

Height: Bloom stalk to about 50cm. Foliage is a grass-like tuft.

Season of Bloom: Mid summer. Its summer bloom period and elegant habit makes Ziggy an attractive addition to a sunny rock garden.

Wildlife Benefits: Only to highly specialized mining bees. Read the story here.

Growing Conditions: Full sun. Best in calcareous (sweet) soil. Grows on alvars (limestone pavements).

Remarks: Highly deer-resistant. In fact, all the plants in this genus are poisonous to grazing livestock. White Camas in the wild is so strictly found only on alvars and limestone cliffs, it is not going to spread from your perennial garden into good pasture. But if you happen to be pasturing on alvar, say, adjacent to the Burnt Lands Alvar, Ziggy’s potential toxicity is something to be aware of.

Similar Species: Nothing quite like Ziggy, but some good companions from alvars are Wood Lily, Arkansas Calamint, Prairie Dropseed, Early Buttercup, Hairy Beardtongue, and Upland White Aster.

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