Camas: Distribution and Cultural Landscape Implications

A discussion on the species’ historical and present distribution and rapid (or not-so-rapid) expansion.


Based on one participant’s personal observation, camas dominates the I-5 corridor that runs through a historically wetland prairie landscape. It is agreed that freeway construction conditions favor camas spread and growth, and may be a major factor influencing camas persistence along these “ribbons of impervious surface,” but what about the rate of spreading elsewhere throughout the region? Some participants note instances of “rapid camas spreading,” while others cite observations that suggest otherwise. In either case, to understand the rapid, and sometimes not-so-rapid, spread of camas it is important to realize the historical origins of the species in the Pacific Northwest. Is the distribution and maintenance of camas in a “post-glacial prairie ecosystem” due to human intervention alone? Current evidence does not support this idea, and although anthropogenic effects have certainly played a role in camas dispersal, the biological characteristics of the species (i.e., bulb longevity, survival as a non- vegetative plant) likely explain its ability to persist in an ever-fragmenting landscape as well. Despite different opinions on the rate of spreading and historical origin, its is clear from this discussion that camas is a resilient species and a “fabulous indicator of prairie ecosystems.”