Three distinct camas flower colors located within a few miles of one another in Cottage Grove and Gowdyville, Lane County, Oregon, April 23, 2016. Photo by Bob Zybach*

Field Report By Bob Zybach, PhD.

Program Manager,

June 7, 2016

This is a supplemental field report to the 2015 West-East transect report on camas color variations that was posted on May 11, 2015:

This report, and other ORWW websites and reports related to camas, can be found at:

This research project asks the question: Were aesthetic qualities of camas blossom colors a factor in the establishment and/or maintenance of camas fields by precontact western Oregon Indian communities? This question is based on the observation that distinctive colors of camas blossoms appear to geographically correlate to early historical Indian communities, and particularly communities in the Willamette and Umpqua River valleys. The significance of such a relationship -- if it can be shown -- would address the "nature vs. nurture" argument regarding precontact plant use and management practices of indigenous people, as well as add insight to the Kalapuyan cultures that inhabited both valleys.

In the 2015 report on this transect we documented the significant -- and largely discrete -- differences in camas flower colors in various locations in western Oregon interior valleys. No populations in eastern Oregon, along the Columbia River, or along the Oregon Coast were recorded. In this manner more than 25 individual plants were documented in 18 different locations by using digital photography, GPS receivers, and five basic colors of fingernail polish as a basis to compare color variations. Transects were made along the north-south I-5 highway corridor and east-west along the Highway 228 and Highway 20 corridors and separate online reports were made for each transect.

In 2016 each transect was repeated, with the distance and number of locations being slightly increased. Digital photos were taken again, but this time standardized color charts were included with each photo, a tape measure was used to determine general plant size, and tissue samples were systematically gathered from 30 different plants for future DNA analysis. The east-west transect still terminated at Gordon Meadows in Linn County (4300-foot elevation; Tsp. 14 S., Rng. 4 E., Sec. 11), but was extended along Highway 20 to include the cities of Wren (Tsp. 11 S., Rng. 6 W., Sec. 28) and Philomath, and northward along Highway 99 W to include a Tampico population and connect with Salem (120-foot elevation) and Mill City; 30 miles east of Salem on Highway 22 along the North Fork of the Santiam River. In 2015 and 2016 more than 60 individual camas plants have been photographed from 34 different locations, with 30 of these plants selected for genetic testing. None of the 15+ documented Salem camas were sampled for genetic testing because this has already been accomplished by Dr. Susan Kephart and her students from Willamette University, who have studied these plants for several years.

This report is arranged in two parts, as represented in Tables 2 and 3: 1) the subtle differences in coloration from pure white to deep purple that characterize one of the Salem populations and are representative of almost all of the various camas stands in the Willamette River basin; and 2) the documented west-east camas colors from Wren to Gordon Meadows; a distance of more than 60 miles and a change in elevation of more than 4,000 feet.

Photograph Tables

Table 1. Methods of Measuring Differences in Camas Morphology and Blossom Colors.

This table provides a brief overview of the methods used to document camas colors during the 2016 field season. The "comparative morphology" photo shows five mature camas plants taken from four different locations near Cottage Grove, Oregon on April 25, 2016. Selections were made from the largest representative plants in each location. As can be seen, sizes varied from 18' to 36" in height, foliage development appears proportional to height; and coloring is similar, varying from blue to lavender blue. The same tape measure is used in the "growth measures" photo, which shows a 36" leaf from a plant nearly 48" in height. The "one million" colors chart purports to show just that. The 1908 color wheel provides a nomenclature for the various hues that are being documented. The "genetic analysis" photo shows the 30 camas tissue samples that were systematically gathered during this inventory and are being analyzed by botanist Madrona Murphy in conjunction with her genotyping research with the scientific cooperative, Kwiaht, on the San Juan Islands, Washington.

Table 2. Camas Blossom Color Variations in Oregon State Fairgrounds Camas Field, Salem, Oregon, April 2016.

On April 25, 2016 Dr. David Lewis of Salem, Oregon assisted in documenting more than a dozen camas flower colors in a field used as an overflow parking lot for the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem. As shown, blossom colors varied from a pure white, to whites with subtle rose and lavender hues, to drak lavender blue and deep purple colors. This is one of the only two cams fields -- of 34 documented -- that contained such diversity of colors; the other being at the Winston Exit of I-5 at milepost (MP) 119. These represent every color noted during this project in the entire Willamette basin and likely represent a certain amount of hybridization as well.

Table 3. Camas Blossom Color Variations in West-East Transect, Wren to Gordon Meadows, Oregon, May 2016.

This table documents the twelve different camas locations we visited in 2016, including three new populations (since 2015) in the Wren and Philomath area on Highway 20 suggested by Robert Kentta of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. A fourth Philomath location, a population near Coffin Butte on Tampico Road, a small patch on Highway 22 near Mill City with two distinct colors, and a small field in Sweet Home were also added to the 2015 inventory. Notes: 1) the two photos of the "Philomath-3" population represent a photo taken with artificial light and another with a flash to test whether that might affect the appearance of the colors; 2) the small Mill City patch was the only camas spotted along the entire length of Highway 22 from its junction with Highway 20 near the Santiam Pass to Salem -- the entire length of the North Santiam River -- but deep grasses, mowing, and timing may have affected our inability to locate other camas from the highway; 3) we were unable to get a tissue sample or individual photograph of the Sweet Home location because they were behind a fence and the owners were not home to giver permission; 4) the Cascadia-1 camas photo is blurry, but still clear enough to determine its color.


Table 1. Methods of Measuring Differences in Camas Morphology and Blossom Colors.

Comparative Morphology
One Million Colors Chart Growth Measures


Table 2. Camas Blossom Color Variations in Oregon State Fairgrounds Camas Field, Salem, Oregon, April 2016.

0439_Salem-2 0435_Salem-2 0430_Salem-2 0437_Salem-2
0426_Salem-2 0433_Salem-2 0448_Salem-2 0423_Salem-2


Table 3. Camas Blossom Color Variations in West-East Transect: Wren to Gordon Meadows, Oregon, April-May 2016.



1) Two camas fields were sampled for this project for the first time in Salem, both adjacent to the Oregon State Fairgrounds. The stand of camas at the Oregon Heritage Oaks location were the plants furthest north in the inventory and were composed mostly of great camas that vary from dark blue to deep purple; these colors have been found only in the Willamette basin during these inventories, but are the most common and widespread colors that have been documented within that boundary.

2) The second Salem camas field appears to be predominantly common camas and are much smaller in size than the Heritage Oaks camas, but colors vary from pure white, pale rose and pale lavender to lavender, dark blue, and deep purple. Of the 34 documented camas patches in this inventory, only two contained this diversity in colors: this Salem field and the camas patch at the Winston Exit from I-5 at MP 119. It is also possible that other factors, such as soil compaction, regular mowing, herbicides, etc., can account for some of the differences in size (but not colors) in the two populations.

3) This 60+ mile west-east transect of the Willamette River basin supports the general field observation that the majority of camas flowers in this area vary from a dark blue to a deep purple. About 1% of the blossoms -- corroborating earlier studies -- are white, or nearly so. Most (or possibly all) of these white (or nearly so) blossoms appear to be common camas (or young great camas, or great camas growing in severely compacted soils, etc.). Of particular note is the fact that not a single cream-colored blossom -- the predominant color documented in the Umpqua basin -- was observed during the two years of these inventories in the Willamette basin.

*Unless otherwise noted, all photographs in this report are by the author.