Growing Camas from Seed
Growing Native Bulbs from Seed
Growing native bulbs from seed is a labor of love. Although it can take a little longer to reach flowering stage, growing native bulbs from seed is a very rewarding process that leaves a lasting legacy. With the long-term vision of native flowering bulbs in your garden, on your land, or in your restoration project in mind, and with some patience, you too can grow native bulbs like camas. Growing native bulbs from locally adapted seed helps continue the genetic diversity that is so important to native plant conservation.
Native Camas Species
The Klamath-Siskiyou region has two species of native camas: common camas (Camassia quamash) and large camas (Camassia leichtlinii). They are spring-flowering bulbous perennial wildflowers that are beautiful enough for the most high-end ornamental garden, yet are adaptable and ecologically important enough to be included in habitat restoration projects within their ranges. Camas prefers moist conditions winter through late spring, but it can dry out in the late summer months when the bulbs go dormant. In the wild, camas is typically found growing in vernally moist meadows, grasslands, or upland prairies, and on moist slopes or along seeps, springs, rivers, streams and gulches. Camas is tolerant of a wide variety of soil types, including serpentine and clay, as long as there is adequate moisture in the spring. Camas provides valuable, early-season nectar and pollen for a variety of native pollinators, especially overwintering bumble bee queens coming out of hibernation. Camas was a staple food for many Native American tribes. The bulbs were harvested in the fall and either pit roasted or boiled and eaten, or dried and pounded into a flour.
The tips we will provide for growing camas can be used to grow any native bulb species, camas is just one of the most familiar and recognizable species of native bulbs in the region, making it a good species to highlight. Native bulb species are geophytes. A geophyte is any plant with some form of underground storage organ: bulb, tuber, corm, thick rhizome, etc. In the wild geophytes are dispersed by seed, vegetative propagation, and subterranean mammals. Geophytes are an important part of the food web, as they are eaten by small mammals, which in turn feed raptors and larger animals.
Seed Stratification Requirements
Whether you will be growing camas in a nursery or direct sowing on your land or in a restoration project, camas seed will germinate best when sown outside in fall through early winter, typically October through early January. The seeds need 60-90 days of cold-moist stratification or “winterization” in order to break down the seed coat and trigger springtime seed germination. The freeze-thaw cycle, rain, snow, and general winter conditions contribute to successful spring germination. If sown too late and the seeds don’t achieve the required cold-stratification in the first year of sowing, the seeds will remain dormant until the following spring after exposure to an additional winter season. These seed germination requirements work well in the Klamath-Siskiyou region, but may vary in other regions within the range where camas grows. You may also mimic natural cold-moist stratification artificially using the refrigeration method, by placing camas seed in moist seed sprouting paper or paper towels in a ziplock bag or small container as shown in the diagram. For more detailed information about seed germination, please see our SEED PROPAGATION page on our website.
Growing Camas from Seed in Containers
Seed Flats, Gallon Pots, Seed Trays, etc.
Camas seed can be started in a wide variety of container size and shape. Seeds can be evenly spread and lightly covered with sifted soil, vermiculite or other grit in a seed flat or gallon pot, and once the seed germinates in the spring the seedlings can be plucked out and transplanted into larger containers or directly transplanted in the ground. The seed flat or gallon pot can also be grown out through the summer and the bulbs can be transplanted in the fall when they are dormant, or grown out even longer and transplanted the following spring when new growth emerges around the beginning of March.
Seeds can also be sown into seed trays with various sizes and depths of cells, tubes, Ellepots, or even common pony pack trays. Seedlings can then be transplanted into larger containers or directly transplanted into the ground.
Camas seeds can be started in many different types of container or seed tray.
Camas grown in a gallon pot for one year are plucked out and transplanted the following spring.
Camas seedlings transplanted from seed pots directly into the garden (left), into band pots (center), and then later upsized into gallon pots (right).
Direct Sow Camas Seed
Camas can be grown from direct seeding in the garden or as part of a land management or habitat restoration project. In a prepared bed in the garden direct sow camas seed in the fall to early winter, just lightly covering the seed with soil, and allow the seeded area to remain unmulched through the winter.
Site preparation, direct sowing, and springtime camas seedlings emerging in a small area prepared with propane torch burning the previous fall.
Site preparation is key to successful camas seed germination when direct sowing for a land management or habitat restoration project. Read more about Site Preparation Techniques for Native Seeding on our website. Burning or raking the area you want to seed so it is free of thick thatch or competition will prepare the area for seeding. This allows the seed to have direct contact with the soil, which helps seeds germinate and grow through moisture retention and mycorrhizal associations.
Whether you are direct seeding in your garden, on your land, or in a small restoration project, make sure you mark, label or document the area that you sowed the seed so you don’t forget the exact location, and watch for seed germination in the spring as temperatures start to warm up. Camas seedlings look like blades of grass for the first couple years as the leaves feed bulb growth underground. The seedlings and mature plants will go dormant in the early summer.
Growing camas from seed may take some time, but the rewards down the road are many. Camas has such an important ecological and cultural role in the Klamath-Siskiyou region and beyond, however, much of the area camas once inhabited is now destroyed by human development, farming, or other historic impacts. Bringing camas back to its native habitat, or at least growing it in your garden for the benefit of pollinators, helps camas maintain its ecological and living legacy. Enjoy the blooms!
Enjoy camas for pollinator habitat and beauty in your urban landscaping or on your rural land!
Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds has camas seed available. Check out our online shopping cart today!