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Camassia quamash “Common Camas” Liliaceae

Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA
May 6, 2012
Robert Niese

Camas was one of the most important food plants for PNW indigenous peoples. In late spring, bulbs were collected and slow-cooked in giant pits or earthen ovens. These roasted bulbs taste similar to sweet potatoes, but are much sweeter and more fibrous. These plants were such an important food source that wars were often fought over control of the prairies in which they grow. Here in the Puget Sound, these prairie habitats were maintained through regular burning in order to preserve and promote camas growth. Today, more than 85% of these prairie ecosystems have completely disappeared and almost 20,000 of the 23,000 remaining acres can be found here on the Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Maianthemum racemosum “False Lily of the Valley” Liliaceae

Drinking Horse Mountain, Bozeman, MT
June 3, 2015
Robert Niese

These lilies are found abundantly in almost all moist-to-wet forests in North America. Here in the PNW, they are the largest of three species in this genus which all share the common name “false lily of the valley.” These plants are edible, but, when young, look nearly identical to False Hellebore which is very poisonous. Their shoots are said to taste like asparagus and their berries apparently taste like treacle. The plant has also been used at one point or another to treat every sort of ailment you can imagine. All parts of the plant, however, have strong to mild laxative effects and should be consumed cautiously. Learn more here.

Fritillaria atropurpurea “Spotted Fritillary” Liliaceae

Drinking Horse Mountain, Bozeman, MT
June 3, 2015
Robert Niese

There are several common species of chocolate/spotted/checkered fritillaries in the PNW (and countless endemics with tiny, restricted ranges in OR and CA). This species, F. atropurpurea, has the easternmost distribution and is found in most Rocky Mountain states as well as Oregon and California (not found in Washington, BC or Alberta, however). F. affinis is the most common species found west of the Cascades, but can also be found in parts of Idaho (not recorded in Montana or Alberta). F. camschatcensis, has a more northern distribution, but small populations can be found in Washington and Oregon (most abundant in BC and Alaska). The bulbs of all three species have been an important food source for native peoples. The flowers, which can be quite stinky, are pollinated by insects seeking dung and carrion.

Veratrum viride var. eschscholtzianum “Green False Hellebore” Liliaceae

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

Members of the genus Veratrum are highly toxic and famous for their nasty effects. In particular, its spring shoots are often mistaken for Hellebore (also poisonous) which is commonly used in treating morning sickness in pregnant women. If consumed early during pregnancy, False Hellebore will cause cyclopia in the developing fetus, a disorder which prevents the brain form developing into two lobes, thus producing a single olfactory and a single optic nerve (and, consequently, only one eye). It has similar effects on cattle and is widely detested by ranchers in our area. This species is most often found growing in moist, high-elevation valleys and meadows here in the PNW. It’s cousin, the White False Hellebore tends to be more common in lowlands west of the Cascades. (Side note: I always thought this common name sounded like a Harry Potter spell…)

Clintonia uniflora “Queen’s Cup” Liliaceae

Olympic National Park, WA
June 5, 2013
Robert Niese

In spring, these plants bear a single white flower and regularly pop up in fields throughout the moist PNW understory. In the fall, the flowers will turn into blue berries which are mildly poisonous to humans, but are a favorite food of the Ruffed Grouse.

Erythronium grandiflorum “Glacier Lily” Liliaceae

Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor (BLM), MT
April 23, 2015
Robert Niese

The Glacier Lily is endemic to western North America and is a close relative of E. montanum, another common montane fawn lily. Unlike E. montanum, the yellow Glacier Lily is not as particular about its habitat and is regularly found in the understory of nearly all our Ponderosa Pine forests in the springtime. 

Trillium ovatum “Wakerobin/Western Trillium” Liliaceae

Lolo National Forest, Bitterroot Mountains, MT
March 18, 2015
Robert Niese

Trillium is, by far and away, my favorite spring arrival to our PNW forests. They like moist areas around rivers and streams, especially those that have a nice mossy carpet to keep the soil damp throughout the year.

Fritillaria pudica “Yellowbells/Yellow Fritillary” Liliaceae

Lolo National Forest, Bitterroot Mountains, MT
April 18, 2015
Robert Niese

Yellow Fritillaries are a sure sign of spring in the PNW east of the Cascades. They tend to make their appearance around the same time as species like the Sagebrush Buttercup and Biscuitroot. The roots of F. pudica are edible and quite starchy. They are said to taste like rice after they have been cooked.

Erythronium montanum “Avalanche Lily” Liliaceae

Mount Rainier National Park, WA
August 4, 2012
Robert Niese

Avalanche Lilies are some of the first montane flowers to bloom in the PNW. As soon as the snow begins to melt, these guys are sprouting and preparing for the brief alpine summer. E. montanum is endemic to the Pacific Northwest and is only found in alpine and subalpine regions of the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges.