Zigadenus elegans Pursh

White Camas


CC = 10
CW = 0
MOC = 4

© DETenaglia

Family - Liliaceae

Habit - Perennial forb with bulbs, often somewhat glaucous, lacking Allium odor.

Stems - Arching to erect, to 60 cm, unbranched below the inflorescence, glabrous.

Leaves - Mostly basal, numerous, glabrous, those on the aerial stems greatly reduced and mostly bractlike, the basal leaves 10-50 cm long, linear, flat or more often folded longitudinally in the lower half.

Zigadenus_elegans_plant.jpg Leaves.

© DETenaglia

Inflorescence - Terminal racemes or panicles of perfect and/or functionally unisexual flowers.

Zigadenus_elegans_inflorescence.jpg Inflorescence.

© DETenaglia

Zigadenus_elegans_bract.jpg Bract of inflorescence.

© DETenaglia

Flowers - Flowers with stalks 5-30 mm long, subtended by small bracts, none of them replaced by bulblets. Perianth spreading, the sepals and petals 6-12 mm long, fused to the base of the ovary, obovate to narrowly elliptic or lanceolate, not narrowed to short, stalklike bases, white, creamy white, or greenish white, sometimes purplish tinged, turning green after flowering, each with a green, 2-lobed gland on the inner surface near the base. Stamens 6, usually fused to the base of the perianth. Styles 3, each with a small stigma. Ovary superior, with 3 locules, each with 4-10 ovules.

Zigadenus_elegans_flower_close.jpg Flower.

© DETenaglia

Fruits - Capsules 10-18 mm long, ovoid, deeply 3-lobed, the lobes beaked with the persistent styles.

Flowering - June - August.

Habitat - Crevices and ledges of north-facing dolomite bluffs.

Origin - Native to U.S.

Lookalikes - None close.

Other info. - This attractive species has only been found in 4 Ozark counties in Missouri. The plant is a glacial relict which has remained after the retreat of the last Pleistocene ice sheets. It survives only in the shaded, north-facing dolomite bluffs in southern Missouri.

The pictures above show how the plant grows in Missouri, where ssp. glauca is the extant form. The species is more common in western states, but the plants in those regions belong to ssp. elegans. That subspecies has a more robust and erect growth habit, as shown in the photo below. The status of these two forms remains somewhat controversial, and in areas where both are present they intergrade freely. Another name for the plant is Anticlea elegans. Regardless of the name chosen, these are very toxic species due to their alkaloid content. Many botanists place them in the Melanthieae tribe of the Melanthiaceae, a tribe notorious for the toxicity of its members. Appropriately, plants in this genus are often known as "death camus."

Zigadenus_elegans_ssp_elegans_inflorescence.jpg Inflorescence of ssp. elegans (Rocky Mountain National Park, 7-31-2017)

© SRTurner

Photographs taken along the Jack's Fork River, Shannon County, MO., 6-22-03 (DETenaglia).