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Deathcamas, poisoncamas

Family: Liliaceae

Scientific name: Zigadenus spp.

Common name: Deathcamas, poisoncamas

Description: The stems of these perennial plants grow from I to 2 feet tall when in full flower. Several inches below ground the stem is attached to an onion-like bulb that lacks the characteristic onion-like odor. The basal leaves are grass-like and have parallel veins. The bowl-shaped flowers vary from cream to greenish-white and occur in racemes or branched flower clusters. The fruit is a three-parted capsule.

Occurrence: Deathcamas are found throughout the United States, but most species occur west of the Mississippi River. The foothill deathcamas [Zigadenus paniculatus (Nutt.) S. Wats.] is a poisonous species in the Western United States.

Toxicity: Deathcamas plants are aptly named because of the high toxicity of their steroid alkaloids. The young growth and bulbs are the most toxic parts. Humans are most likely to be poisoned by mistaking the bulbs for those of edible species of the genus “Camassia”. Children have been poisoned by eating the flowers.

Symptoms: “Zigadenus” alkaloids produce weak, rapid heartbeat, weakness, lowered temperature, stomach pains, vomiting, diarrhea , prostration, and death.

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