Camassia is a genus of six species native to western North America, from southern British Columbia to northernCalifornia, and east to Utah, Wyoming and Montana. Historically, the genus was thought to belong to the lily family (Liliaceae), sometimes narrowed down to the families Scillaceae or Hyacinthaceae, but DNA and biochemical studies have led the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group to reassign Camassia to the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Agavoideae. Common names include Camas, Quamash, Indian hyacinth, and Wild hyacinth.
Camassia species were an important food staple for Native Americans and settlers in parts of the American Old West. Many areas in the Northwest are named for the plant, including the city of Camas, Washington, Lacamas Creek in southern Washington, the Camas Prairie in northern Idaho (and its Camas Prairie Railroad), and Camas County in southern Idaho.
Camas grow in the wild in great numbers in moist meadows; they are perennial plants with basal linear leaves measuring 8 to 32 inches (20–80 cm) in length, which emerge early in the spring. They grow to a height of 12 to 50 inches (30–130 cm), with a multi-flowered stem rising above the main plant in summer. The six-petaled flowers vary in color from pale lilac or white to deep purple or blue-violet. They sometimes color whole meadows.
The Quamash was a food source for many native peoples in the western United States and Canada. After being harvested in the autumn, once the flowers have withered, the bulbs were pit-roasted or boiled. A pit-cooked camas bulb looks and tastes something like baked sweet potato, but sweeter, and with more crystalline fibers due to the presence of inulin in the bulbs.