Zigadenus elegans (Mountain Death Camas)

Plant Info
Also known as: White Camas
Genus:Zigadenus
Family:Melanthiaceae (Trillium)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
Habitat:sun; rich moist prairies and meadows
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:6 to 36 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 6-petals Cluster type: panicle Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flower] The erect flower stalk sometimes forms a single raceme but is more often a branched panicle up to a foot long, of 1-50 creamy white, star-like stalked flowers about ½ inch across. The 6 tepals (petals) are egg shaped, with a thick greenish yellow heart-shaped gland above the base creating a ring around the lighter or green tipped center. The cone-like style in the middle is split into three narrow arching stigmas, surrounded by 6 arching stamens with green to orange tips. Flower stalks up to 1 inch long are accompanied by a short lance shaped papery bract at the base that is often tinged with purple or pink.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of basal leaves] Leaves are mostly basal, slender and grass-like, 4 to 12 inches long, ¼ to ½ inch wide, with smooth edges, faint parallel lines, and a keeled midrib on the underside.

[photo of stem leaves] The few stem leaves are much shorter, clasping to sheathing, and typically folded lengthwise. The stem and leaves are rigid and hairless, often bluish green from a white waxy coating (glaucous).

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a 3-parted, oval shaped cone 1/3 to ¾ inch long, often wrapped at the base by the persistent dried tepals.

Notes:

All parts of the Mountain Death Camas plant are poisonous from alkaloids more toxic than strychnine and can sicken livestock. Plants over-winter as a bulb that is very similar to the wild onion and a few settlers learned of its toxicity the hard way. Alkaloid poisoning is a terrible way to die! Formerly known as Anticlea elegans, Zigadenus elegans has recently moved from the Liliaceae (Lily) family to Melanthiaceae (Trillium). Some references list multiple varieties, with var. glaucus in Minnesota, but Flora of North America, our definitive guide, makes no distinction.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Pope County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Dakota, Polk and Pope counties.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Pat - Meeker Co.
on: 2012-04-07 19:53:32

Thank you for the strict warning about this plant. I found some growing near Litchfield, by the railroad track. They are quite attractive looking. I collected some seeds and they germinated very well.

Posted by: Steve - Lost Valley Prairie SNA
on: 2014-05-03 10:17:52

Found this plant a couple of years ago. It is the only known site for Washington county so far. Was out on May 2, 2014 and saw this year's sprouts coming up. Plants are on a north facing steep slope.

Posted by: michelle - winona county
on: 2015-06-29 21:41:29

I saw this plant yesterday , June 28 in SE MN, beautiful plant, surprised it is poisonous!

Posted by: Kimberly - Pipestone County
on: 2016-06-07 16:26:01

Found about thirty plants along Willow Creek.

Posted by: Kenny h - East of rose creek on shooting star trail
on: 2017-06-14 15:33:04

They were dotted here and there for about a mile, on old railroad prairie remnant

Posted by: Bill R - NW corner Pennington County
on: 2017-06-24 21:03:54

About 50-100 plants in a small opening in a woodlot.

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