Open Source Plant Breeding Forum

General Category => Plant Breeding => Topic started by: William S. on 2019-10-04, 05:34:59 PM

Title: Camassia
Post by: William S. on 2019-10-04, 05:34:59 PM
Anyone growing Camassia? It's culturally important to many of my neighbors. Thinking I would like to grow it. Found a neat thread here

It references this burbank article

Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: triffid on 2019-10-05, 11:33:16 AM
I was going to grow Camassia quamash as a curiosity more than anything, but the Burbank article has opened my eyes to possibilities I wouldn't have normally considered - like the dividing and offsets seen in the hybrids. Such a shame his varieties are lost. I'd love to play around with these next year. Thanks for posting.
Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: ImGrimmer on 2019-10-06, 09:42:46 AM
this sounds interesting. Especially as it is an ornamental too. Are there any sources for Burbanks strains or something similiar to it?
My research gave me only ornamental varieties, which is probably the very bottom to start....
Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: William S. on 2019-10-06, 10:47:14 AM
Not so far that I have found. Though I might add that many of my neighbors have been eating quite ordinary Camassia quamash for deep time, "since time immemorial" is a good term for it. So the twenty years or so of lost work by Burbank is kind of an eye blink.
Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: William S. on 2019-10-08, 01:23:44 PM

Looks like William Whitson is growing camas.
Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: William S. on 2019-10-08, 04:43:57 PM
Quote from: burbank
"My first work was done with a species known as Camassia Leichtlinii, which grows abundantly on Vancouver Island. Considered as a flowering plant this is the finest of the native varieties. It grows almost altogether in crevasses of rocks, but it produces very attractive large, deep purple flowers, with wide petals. First the attempt was made to improve the flower, and I introduced a good many years ago a modified variety of the species that was somewhat dwarfed as to leaf and stem but in which the flowers had been much enlarged, the petals broadened, and the colour changed to a dark blue.

As my experiments continued, however, my interest in the camassia increased, and I began to give attention to the bulb of the plant as well as to the flower.

I began working with another species, the Camassia Cusickii, which has relatively large bulbs; and with another of the well-known nature species, Camassia esculenta, the bulbs of which are much smaller but of recognized edible quality.

Most of my work in hybridizing and selective breeding has been done with the three species just named, but I have also raised somewhat extensively two other species, known as C. Howellii and C. Fraseri, as well as a great number of wild varieties of all the different species from British America, Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada" - Luther Burbank

I just spent a little bit of time decoding the taxonomic synonymy in this portion of the Burbank article.

C. leicthlinii is unchanged as is C. cusickii and.C. howelii though the latter is quite rare and seems unavailable as far as I've found.

C. Fraseri comes C. angusta perhaps a variety thereof. Though USDA plants does not mention any current subspecies or synonymy for that taxon. Some sources like William Cullina seem to lump C. angusta and C. scilloides as a single taxon. C. escuelenta and this is important; was sometimes misapplied to C. quamash, but is properly a synonym of C. scilloides.

Also notably Burbank speaks in the article at the end of my excerpt above about the geography of the species complex and really seems only to be referencing the western species in that distribution which suggests he may have indeed been following that misapplication of escuelenta to quamash.

So I was readily able to order specimens of the five species I found available and seeds for three of the same. Will see what and when they come. It is probably worthwhile to make a collection of all available color variation horticultural varieties from bulbs because some may be in actuality interspecies hybrids and not labeled as such though this is speculation on my part based on a portion of Burbank's article where he speaks of simultaneous imovement in flower and bulb characters. Also from pillaging my home library the following was interesting in "Encyclopedia of NW native plants for gardens and landscapes". Camassia leichtlinii ssp. Leichtlinii runs towards white and horticultural varieties alba and semiplena are referable to it. 'Blue Danube' to C. Leichtlinii ssp. Suksdorfii. So collecting all named horticultural varieties may be worthwhile. Also another author William Cullina says that some offerings in trade may be C. cusickii mislabeled because of its greater ease of propagation i.e. larger more rhizomatous bulb clusters that propagate faster.

One side note: C. Cusickii sounds quite desirable- except my Hitchcock and Cronquist flora of PNW suggests bad raw flavor as a key character among others.

One of the local populations here is known for small size and particularly good sweetness. So maybe size isn't everything. 

Collecting all botanical variation from the wild species could be quite the challenge. I haven't yet undertaken a complete listing of the subspecies. Though these are only listed on the USDA plants database for the two C. leichtlinii subspecies I already mentioned plus some nine subspecies for C. quamash.

Though wild variation is not limited to subspecies. Along the continental divide in Northern Montana east side Camas has dark blue perhaps purple flowers and west side Camas flowers are light blue. Both colors are spectacular but a garden collection might benefit from both. Both are considered ssp. quamash. Is the color due to soil/climate or genetics?

Horticultural varieties there are at least 6 of C. Leichtlinii, one named C. Cusickii, and two named C. Quamash and perhaps more. Some with antiquity back to Burbank's era.

I checked the USDA ARS-GRIN system and I consider their current collection wholly inadequate for the conservation and breeding of this species group. Though they do have some accessions, and of those some are available for distribution as seed. It might be worthwhile to give their offerings further study.

The scale of the experiments needed is pretty large. In his article Burbank mentioned observing some 20,000 bulbs. Seems like yet another project that could occupy all the time and resources of a gardener.

Though five bulbs, one of each available species, may be adequate to start with.
Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: William S. on 2019-10-09, 05:31:21 PM
1st seed packet came today, local Camassia quamash. Also a cheap paperback reproduction of the 7th book in the Burbank series. The one with the article on Camassia. I have the first book from my paternal grandmother. Without the Internet she never tracked down the rest of the series.
Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: triffid on 2019-10-09, 05:56:33 PM
The series looks like a great read. Where did you track down the reproduction?
Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: William S. on 2019-10-09, 08:04:32 PM
The series looks like a great read. Where did you track down the reproduction?
Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: Diane Whitehead on 2019-10-09, 08:43:24 PM
in Plants of Coastal British Columbia by Pojar and MacKinnon - a rather lengthy description of how Camassia quamash and C. leichtlinii were harvested, cooked, and stored with some excerpts from the journals of Meriwether Lewis and David Douglas.

warm cakes of pressed and baked roots taste much like a baked pear.

Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: William S. on 2019-10-11, 08:58:49 PM
Quote from: archive dot org


Burbank evidently began collecting and hybridizing wild forms of Camas-
sia about 1900 or earlier. Several species are indigenous to northern California
or southern Oregon. Purdy {6, vol. 2, p. 640) considers Camassia Leichtlinii
the best of them all. Burbank reported in 1917, "The improvements made with
these fine, hardy plants on my own grounds during the past twenty years have
been about all that has ever been done for them since nature fitted them for
their wild environment. These new hybrids show a very great improvement.
. . . The blossoms are larger, set closer to the stem, are brighter in color, and
vary far more widely than before." {135, vol. 7, p. 242^9.)

Burbank Hybrids. — 1911. "Gigantic bulbs, gigantic flowers, new colors,
dark blue, sky blue and purplish shades." {85, p. 2.)

Camassia Hybrids. — 1918. "Often called Indian Potato. . . . Largest and
brightest colors known in this genus." {Ill, p. 17.)

Camassia Leichtlinii. — 1906. Collected from the wild in California. Perhaps
the finest of the native species. "Western Hyacinth — hardy, purple and white
mixed." {65, p. 3.)

Compacta. — Listed in the 1914 bill of sale.

Multiplier. — 1927. Developed by hybridizing native species, but exact par-
entage not given. "The only one . . . that multiplies from bulbs by natural
division each season." {133, p. 20.)

Interesting from

Another source a workshop in 2015 corroborates this list and adds little additional info

Camassia leichtlinii

Burbank Hybrids 1911 All hybrids may be composed of several
additional species; large bulbs, huge
flowers, new colors of purple, dark and sky
Camassia Hybrids 1918 Largest, brightest colors of Camassia; also
called ‘Indian Potato’
Camassia Leichtlinii 1906 Collected in California
Compacta 1914 No information
Multiplier 1927 Interspecific hybrid between California
species; this easily multiples by ‘‘natural

Went down a rabbit hole of limited information. Could not find anything on the variety Orion of Camassia quamash other than it's 1913 vintage. It's not on the above lists of Burbank's. Who what where why still missing... 
Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: William S. on 2019-10-12, 04:51:33 PM
Bulbs came today. Three species, nice big bulbs on two of the species. Thought I ordered two more species from another firm but don't think it finalized no charge, no email.... now one of the two is out of stock again. Darn.
Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: William S. on 2019-10-14, 09:43:35 PM
Planted the bulbs yesterday with my almost three year old son. Ordered a couple more of the one additional species available. Haven't planted the seeds yet.
Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: Zach E. on 2020-06-19, 02:56:11 PM
I grow C. scilloides, C. quamash, and C. leichtlinii. Just harvested seed from my scilloides patch, which is a mixture of bulbs sourced from various sources in the "wild" -- Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, as well as whatever is in the local horticulture trade. I use the word "wild" in quotation marks quite deliberately as many of the places where Camassia scilloides is still present in the eastern US were indigenous root gardens. This is an important cultural food. I wanted to have good genetic diversity because camas are outcrossers as far as I know, that is why I collected from several sources. 6-8 distinct provenances. My quamash I started from seed given me from a few different people, and none have reached flowering age yet. Some quamash comes from Chris Homanics, collected in the Willamette Valley. Had quamash seed sent to me also from an acquaintance who collected further east in Oregon, or maybe Idaho? The leichtlinii came from bulbs I was given from a horticulturist in North Carolina. So far I haven't observed any seed production on the leichtlinii, indicating they are probably all clones of each other. I also haven't noticed any interspecies cross-fertilizations happening, although I do have the species separated on opposite ends of the property where they are planted. As I build up the respective populations more I'd love to observe and interact with hybrids.

Curious that Luther Burbank says the wild Camassia seldom grow beyond 1 inch wide, 2 inches tall. This is not my experience. Camassia scilloides often grows 2 inches almost perfectly around in ideal habitats in Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama. The potential of this species may even be more, if a fire regime is re-introduced, for example. Also I recall seeing photograph of native peoples harvesting camas bulbs in British Columbia, featured in a book by Nancy Turner. Those bulbs appeared to be 3, even 4 inches or more around. Check out this photo of a Nez Perce (Columbian/Snake River plateau) woman sorting camas bulbs, for example: Those look pretty huge! And here's a contemporary example of C. leichtlinii "greater camas:"

The folk taxonomy of camas in the PNW is "lesser camas" for Camassia quamash or "greater camas" for C. leichtlinii. Quamash seems to average about 1-2 inches in girth, whereas leichtlinii's averages are nearly double, hence the "lesser" and "greater" distinction. I don't live in the PNW, so am unable to confirm or deny in more depth through field study.

But, long story short, my suspicion is that Burbank was effectively "reinventing the wheel." I don't doubt that new hybridizations can yield bigger bulbs, what I doubt is the just-so story that hybridization has never been done before / wasn't done aready by native peoples. I think the potential for camas goes beyond curiosity. The tricky thing about it is that it just doesn't conform to standardized notions of agronomy in row crops. To most effectively cultivate camas you have to cultivate an ecosystem: the root-digging action promotes tilth and friability, in the context of a perennial grassland made up of native grasses, forbs, and geophytes -- all with a regular burning regime not just to preserve the openness of the sunny habitat, but to moderate soil pH and increase the bioavailability of important macronutrients like calcium and phosphorus, which in some cases may drastically improve root growth and size.
Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: William S. on 2020-06-20, 07:40:23 AM
Hi Zach. I just photographed what I hope is species number five in the back yard garden. Blooming out of sync with the others.

I bought a single variety of lechtlinii, single of cusickii, and a single of quamash, then the angusta and scilloides are seed grown from prairie moon nursery.

For first year bulbs grown in Holland the lechtlinii and cusickii are huge. However I see wild quamash just as big

My phenology is behind you but I think seeds are forming on the cultivars and thus probably lechtlinii x cusickii?!

I got new catalogs this spring from the bulb outfit I got the cultivars from. I noticed in detailed descriptions that some are believed to be interspecies hybrids.

Orion the quamash variety I got bulbs for is later than the local quamash. Also in the description it's noted to be a hybrid in the catalog. Though not of what!

Tremendous number of quamash subspecies. However there is local variation not so denoted. For instance east side of divide is dark purple and west side is light blue.
Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: Zach E. on 2020-06-20, 09:10:33 AM
Hi William. That's a beautiful flower in the photo! It is quamash? Interesting, looks exactly like C. scilloides. Makes me wonder how closely related they might be, lemma look up the phylogeny...

"Our results are largely consistent with Gould's views that the genus originated in southwestern Oregon and diversified through eastern migration, and that C. scilloides and C. cusickii are derived from within C. quamash."

Could all C. scilloides, at least east of the short grass prairie, derive from human assisted migrations? Hmmm.
Title: Re: Camassia
Post by: William S. on 2020-06-20, 11:38:19 AM
Um it should either be the scilloides or angusta from prairie moon nursery!

Interesting though...