Lewis Describes Camas

Radix with radicles

Camas Bulb

Rendering by Bob Gilman

The bulb is white when raw. It turns black when baked.

Captain Lewis:

The radix is a tunicated bulb, much the consistence, shape and appearance of the onion; glutenous or somewhat [slymy]1 when chewed; and almost tasteless and without smell in its unprepared state. It is white, except the thin, outer tunicated scales, which are few, black, and not succulent. This bulb is from the size of a nutmeg to that of a hens egg, and most commonly of an intermediate size, or about as large as an onion of one years growth from the seed.
The radicles are numerous, rather large, white, flexible, succulent and diverging.

Professor Reveal:

The term "radicles" here refers to the roots at the base of the bulb. The entire structure—roots and bulbs—is a "radi"X and in this case a specialized type—a tunicate bulb (e.g., having scales). Lewis's use of "radicale" in his description means the leaves arise from the top of the bulb. The term is correctly spelled "radical."

 

Foliage

Camas Foliage

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interactive image describing the camas plant leaves

© 2004 VIAs Inc./Bob Gilman

Captain Lewis:

the foliage consists of from one to four seldom five linear, sessile, and revolute, pointed leaves; they are from 12 to 18 inches in length, and from 1 to 3/4 of an inch in the widest part which is near the middle; the uper disk is somewhat gro[o]ved of a pale green and marked it's whole length with a number of small longitudinal channels; the under disk is a deep glossy green and smooth. the leaves sheath the peduncle and each other as high as the surface of the earth or about 2 inches; they are more succulent than the grasses and less so than most of the lillies, hyesinths, &c.—2

Professor Reveal:

When Lewis says "the leaves sheath the peduncle and each other as high as the surface of the earth or about 2 inches," he is referring to the fact that in plants with several leaves arising from the bulb (in some species of Camassia there can be numerous leaves, and even in C. quamash there can be more than the maximum of five leaves as suggested by Lewis) the basal leaf sheaths surround the base of the peduncle for a few inches between the bulb itself and the ground surface where the leaves can diverge from the peduncle.

When he refers to "the upper disk" what he means is the upper (or inner) surface of the leaf-blade. Likewise, the "under disk" refers to the lower (or outer) surface.

 

Peduncle and pedicel

Penduncle and Pedicle

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interactive image showing a tall, slender stalk (the peduncle)

© 2004 VIAs Inc./Bob Gilman

Inflorescence

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interactive image showing a tall, purple bloom (the inflorescence)

© 2004 VIAs Inc./Bob Gilman

Captain Lewis:

the peduncle is soletary, proceeds from the root, is columner, smooth, leafless, and rises to the height of 2 or 2-1/2 feet.

"[The pedicel] supports from 10 to forty flowers, which are each supported by a separate footstalk of 1/2 an inch in length, scattered without order on the upper portion of the peduncle."

Professor Reveal:

Unlike many modern botanists, Lewis clearly understood the difference between a peduncle (the stalk that holds the inflorescence and arises from the bulb) and a pedicel (the stalk that holds an individual flower). In describing the inflorescence, Lewis states that the "10 to forty flowers" are on a "footstalk." The term "footstalk" is equal to "pedicel" so that the individual flowers are pedicellate, or "on a pedicel."

 

Calyx

Subtending Bracts

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short and narrow petal-like shoots (subtending bracts)

© 2004 VIAs Inc./Bob Gilman

Camas with Declining Calyx

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a drooping calyx

© 2004 VIAs Inc./Bob Gilman

Captain Lewis:

. . . the calix is a partial involucre or involucret Situated at the base of the footstalk of each flower on the peduncle; it is long thin and begins to decline as soon as the corrolla expands.

Professor Reveal:

His expression "the calix is a partial involucret situated at the base of the footstalk" is an incorrect understanding of floral parts. What Lewis is referring to here is the subtending bract at the base of each pedicel. These bracts are associated with the bud and act as a protective layer over the bud as the inflorescence is elongating and the buds are maturing. As the buds mature to the point of anthesis (flowering, or the opening of a flower), the bracts wither and are torn apart by the expanding bud. By the time an individual flower opens, the bracts are usually decurrent (bent downwardly) and well away from both the flower and the pedicel.

 

Corolla

Corolla

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Ineractive photo showing that the ovary here looks like a pea, the tepals look like long purple petals

© 2004 VIAs Inc./Bob Gilman

Captain Lewis:

. . . the corolla consists of six long oval, obtusly pointed, skye blue or water coloured petals, each about 1 inch in length; the corolla is regular as to the form and size of the petals but irregular as to their position, five of them are placed near e[a]ch other, pointing upward while one stands horizantally or pointing downwards, they are inserted with a short claw on the extremity of the footstalk at the base of the germ; the corolla is, of course, inferior; it is also shriveling, and continues untill the seeds are perfect.

Professor Reveal:

The flowers are slightly irregular in this species, meaning that one of the tepals is positioned slightly differently from the other five. Lewis noted this, a fact not readily seen by many who look at the flowers of the species. Lewis says the corolla is "of course inferior" meaning the petals and sepals are not differentiated (today the term "tepals" is applied to the undifferentiated sepals and petals). His expression about the "corolla" being "inserted with a short claw on the extremity of the footstalk at the base of the germ" refers to the narrowing of the tepals at the base of the ovary; both the tepals and the ovary are positioned atop the pedicel.

 

Stamens, filaments and anthers

Germ, Filaments, and Anthers

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interactive photo labeling the camas plant parts

© 2004 VIAs Inc./Bob Gilman

Captain Lewis:

The stamens are perfect, six in number; the filaments each elevate an anther, near their base are flat on the inside and rounded on the outer terminate in a subulate point, are bowed or bent upwards, inserted on the inner side and on the base of the claws of the petals, below the germ, are equal both with rispect to themselves and the corolla, smooth & membraneous.
. . . the Anther is oblong, obtusely pointed, 2 horned or forked, at one end and furrowed longitudinally with four channels, the upper and lower of which seem almost to divide it into two loabs, incumbent patent, membranous, very short, naked, two valved and fertile with pollen, which last is of a yellow colour—. the anther in a few hours after the corolla unfoalds, bursts, discharges it's pollen and becomes very minute and shrivled; the above discription of the anther is therefore to be understood of it at the moment of it's first appearance.

Professor Reveal:

Lewis errs in his description of the anthers, suggesting they are "2 horned or forked." The anthers are versatile, meaning that the point of attachment of the filament is mid-length or centered along the length of the anther. Most anthers are basifixed, meaning that the filament is attached at the base of the anther. The terms "incumbent patent" allude to the angle of the anthers and filaments to one another, and it is each half of the anther (the two pieces on each side of the filament) that are "very short" and "naked." The anther is two lobed ("two loabs") and also two chambered ("two valved")

 

Ovary and Pistil

Ovary, Style, and Stigma

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Interactive image showing a pea-shaped ovary in the middle of a camas flower

© 2004 VIAs Inc./Bob Gilman

Inside the Camas Ovary

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interactive image showing the parts inside the camas ovary

© 2004 VIAs Inc./Bob Gilman

Captain Lewis:

. . . the pistillum is only one, of which, the germ [ovary] is triangular reather swollen on the sides, smooth superior, sessile, pedicelled, short in proportion to the corolla, altho' wide or bulky; the style is very long or longer than the stamens, simple, cylindrical, bowed or bent upwards, placed on the top of the germ, membranous shrivels and falls off when the pericarp has obtained its full size. the stigma is three-cleft, very minute, and pubescent. the pericarp is a capsule, triangular, oblong, obtuse, and triocular, with three longitudinal valves. the seed so far as I could judge, are numerous not very minute and globilar.—

Professor Reveal:

"The word 'germ' used here has been replaced by the term ovary."

 

Supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Governor's Lewis and Clark Trail Committee

  • 1. Lewis had crossed out this bracketed word, as indicated in Gary Moulton's edition of the journals.
  • 2. Lewis's comparisons are appropriate. Given what was known until recently, Camassia quamash was considered to be a member of the lily family (Liliaceae). Using modern biochemical and DNA techniques, we now realize that the genus Camassia is a member of the agave or century-plant family (Agavaceae).