Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Death camas

with 8 comments

On May 29th atop Scott’s Bluff National Monument in Nebraska I found no shortage of Zigandenus venenosus flowers. You can recognize that the scientific species name means ‘poisonous.’ The common name death camas is no exaggeration, as people have died from eating the various species of this pretty wildflower. And speaking of the genus Zigadenus, a few of you may remember that I belatedly showed an Austin species back in 2015.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 29, 2017 at 5:00 AM

8 Responses

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  1. Such a cheerful, nice-looking flower, who’d have thought it?
    “Look like th’ innocent flower,
    But be the serpent under ’t.”

    Robert Parker Teel

    July 29, 2017 at 11:06 AM

  2. I’ve never noticed until now that there’s quite a resemblance between the flowers of this plant and those of crow poison (Nothoscordum bivalve). Of course they’re arranged differently, but the flowers are remarkably similar: it looks like both have six petals and six stamens, and of course the colors are similar.

    Crow poison comes with a warning against human consumption on the Wildflower.org site, too, although they say the jury’s still out on whether the plant is poisonous to crows. I did read that early settlers would grind crow poison plants with grain and put it out to bait the birds in an attempt to reduce their numbers around their fields. I don’t know whether it worked. If it didn’t, they should have tried death camas.


    July 29, 2017 at 9:07 PM

    • The resemblance is more than coincidental: Nothoscordum and Zigadenus are indeed relatives, given that both live in the lily family.

      I’ve had the discussion about crow poison with people at the Wildflower Center. As you say, the verdict’s out (you’ll find conflicting opinions on the Internet) and the Wildflower Center folks err on the side of safety. I don’t often come across death camas in central Texas; in contrast, Shinners and Mahler’s describes crow poison as “one of our most abundant and widespread native plants.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 29, 2017 at 10:02 PM

      • I can attest to that. Last spring, it overspread fields and ditches and fields down here with admirable enthusiasm. As I recall, it was the first widespread bloomer, and it was around for quite some time.


        July 29, 2017 at 10:06 PM

  3. Amazing that this dainty flower could be so deadly …


    August 1, 2017 at 2:25 AM

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