Dry slopes and openings in sagebrush steppe from 4,500 to 9,000 feet
Western United States
This species is
to the Truckee Meadows.
Foothill deathcamas starts growing very early in the spring, before most other plants. It has folded, grass-like leaves. It has white to yellowish flowers that are carried on the flower stem, and the lower flowers open before the top ones. The flowers have orange stamens that give them a soft, lacy quality. Its flower spike can be up to two foot tall. Foothill deathcamas has an underground scaly bulb. It generally flowers April to July, depending on elevation. Foothill deathcamas is one of three species of deathcamas found in the Great Basin, all of which look similar.
Deathcamas plants are beautiful but deadly! All parts of the plant contain toxic steroidal alkaloids that cause cardiovascular failure. Eating the leaves, stems, and flowers generally poisons animals. All parts of the plant are toxic throughout the year; however, poisoning occurs most often in the spring when deathcamas is relatively abundant.
Deathcamas flowers in the Great Basin have a special relationship with just one species of bee! The bee Andrena astragali is a narrow oligolege, collecting pollen solely from two nearly identical species of deathcamas (Toxicoscordion, formerly Zigadenus). Only A. astragali bees were regularly seen visiting flowering panicles of these Toxicoscordion.
Indigenous people used foothill deathcamas as an emetic. They also made poultices from the bulb which they used to treat a variety of conditions including sprains, toothache and rheumatism.
Here in the Truckee Meadows, foothill deathcamas can be found growing in sagebrush steppe in parks such as Washoe Lake, Hidden Valley, and Galena Creek.
Indian Uses of Native Plants by Edith Van Allen Murphey, reprinted 1990
Great Basin Wildflowers, Laird R. Blackwell, 1st edition, 2006
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Alex Shahbazi (edits & page design)