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Creek Running North

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April 16, 2005

Zigadenus fremontii

No one eats Zigadenus fremontii, excepting these little beetles and the occasional clueless human. It's poisonous. Livestock give it a wide berth. On the plus side, for those who choose to ignore the plant's common name "death camas," ingestion of a pound or less of the bulbs - which happened fairly often back in the Gold Rush days - will likely provide a permanent cure for cluelessness.

(The Medline citation linked above offers the misspelling "death camus," from which someone with a higher blood caffeine level than I have at the moment could make an excellent joke.)

The seeds and nectar of death camas are toxic as well, leading me to speculate that the beetles pictured here must either have evolved tolerance to the alkaloids contained therein, or else they died shortly after I shot this last weekend. That would be a lot of dead beetles. I walked through fields of death camas that day.

(That last sentence would be an excellent first line in a Gothic nature sonnet, for someone bla bla caffeine bla.)

Posted by Chris Clarke at April 16, 2005 07:49 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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Strangely enough, considering climate differences, we have a zigadenus here in central Texas, Z.nuttallii, also called death camas by people who know what they are, and sometimes called "wild onions" by others. I have never heard of anyone dying from eating them--I suspect the lack of an onion flavor prevents catastrophe.
I don't know if we have your beetle, though.

Posted by: Jim McCulloch at April 16, 2005 08:32 AM
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I seem to recall there being 2 kinds of camas, one with white flowers and one with some other color. it can be cooked, eaten & used for soap too. this is all hearsay, so please read up on it. maybe the cooking makes it edible & maybe it's a different kind. I once used a nature book to locate edible plants, one called "wild licorice root" is virtually the same as "wild hemlock" I was lucky & lived. (I guess that's luck, maybe not, maybe I'm dead now or like that rebel spy guy in "occurrance at owl creek bridge", my life is still flashing befor my eyes. at any rate, my advice to those of you that share this flicker of reality with me is: "Don't eat Hemlock root", & check out the camas root thoroughly too.)

Posted by: Bill at May 1, 2005 08:21 PM
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