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Published In: Edwards's Botanical Register 18: pl. 1486. 1832. (Edwards's Bot. Reg.) Name publication detailView in BotanicusView in Biodiversity Heritage Library

Project Name Data (Last Modified On 7/9/2009)
Acceptance : Accepted
Project Data     (Last Modified On 7/22/2009)


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4. Camassia Lindl. (wild hyacinth)

Plants perennial, with bulbs, lacking the odor of onion or garlic. Aerial stems 15–110 cm long, unbranched, erect, glabrous. Leaves few to numerous, glabrous, mostly basal, those on the aerial stems greatly reduced and bractlike, the basal leaves 20–45 cm long, linear, flat with a raised midrib on the undersurface or sometimes folded longitudinally in the lower half. Inflorescences at the tips of the aerial stems, racemes of 7–100 flowers. Flowers with stalks 5–30 mm long, subtended by linear, involute bracts, none of them replaced by bulblets. Perianth spreading, the sepals and petals free, linear to narrowly elliptic or narrowly oblanceolate, with 3–7 veins. Stamens 6, free. Style 1, the stigma 3-lobed. Ovary superior, with 3 locules, each with 2–5 ovules. Fruits 6–10 mm long, ovoid to obovoid capsules. Six species, North America.

The question of how many species of Camassia grow in the eastern half of the United States has been studied in quite some detail by several authors. Early observers noted that there existed two phases with different flowering times. Gould (1942) chose not to recognize these two taxonomically, but he noted that the slender, smaller-flowered phase should perhaps be treated as a subspecies of C. scilloides, following further study. Steyermark (1961, 1963) provided a lengthy set of morphological features to contrast the two taxa, emphasizing the differing trends in a variety of characters, and concluded that the two taxa should be treated as separate species. He suggested that part of the apparent morphological overlap might be due to hybridization. More recently, Ranker and Schnabel (1986) performed detailed statistical analyses of data sets reflecting the morphological and genetic divergence within and between populations of these plants. They concluded that there existed broad overlap for nearly all of the morphological characters studied, but that statistically significant differences existed between the taxa for most of the characters cited by Steyermark (1961). Although the two taxa could be distinguished using allozymic markers, they were not well diverged genetically. Ranker and Schnabel’s elegant study showed that the genetic variation found within C. angusta was largely a subset of that found within C. scilloides, and they suggested that the former may represent a taxon recently diverged from the latter. They also agreed, however, that the two taxa should continue to be treated as distinct species. In contrast to Steyermark’s (1963) lengthy diagnostic key, the key below emphasizes only those characters that seem to separate Missouri materials the most discretely.

The bulbs of Camassia are edible, and those of some of the western North American species were consumed extensively by Native Americans. The eastern species are less commonly eaten, but can be boiled or baked. Caution should be taken not confuse Camassia with some of its poisonous relatives.


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1 Inflorescences with (30–)50–100 flowers (including stalks remaining after spent flowers have fallen off), the aerial stems with (1–)3–24 linear, bractlike leaves below the lowermost flowers 1 Camassia angusta
+ Inflorescences with 7–50(–85) flowers, the aerial stems with 0–2(–5) linear, bractlike leaves below the lowermost flowers 2 Camassia scilloides
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