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Manitoba Museum

Lily (Liliaceae)

Smooth Camas

Zigadenus elegans Pursh

This tall perennial has fragrant flowers with a foul smell that attract mainly small flies and gnats as pollinators. Plants can sicken livestock, are poisonous to humans, and may be fatal if eaten. They lose their aboveground parts in the fall, over-wintering as a bulb. Although they are common in the prairies, plants in more western locations can grow at high altitudes up to 3600 meters.

Flower Colour:

  • White

Flowering Season:

  • Summer

Flowering Months:

  • August
  • July
  • June

Canadian Rarity Status:

Not rare. Listed as “may be at risk” in New Brunswick.

Physical Appearance:

Several long, grass-like leaves occur in a basal tuft, have smooth edges, and a keeled midrib. Flowering stems grow 20-80 cm tall, with a few small leaves, and are topped by an open cluster of 1-50 stalked, saucer-shaped flowers. Each of these has six egg-shaped tepals with a dark green heart-shaped gland, a 3-parted stigma and six prominent yellow anthers. Fruits are egg-shaped capsules containing numerous small seeds.

Similar Species:

Death Camas (Zigadenus venenosus S. Wats.)

Gardening Notes:

Seeds and/or plants may be available from greenhouses and seed supply companies specializing in native plants. Plants are a good addition to prairie and woodland gardens.

Canadian Distribution:

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Manitoba
  • New Brunswick
  • Northwest Territories
  • Ontario
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan
  • Yukon

Prairie Types:

  • Fescue Prairie
  • Mixed Grass Prairie
  • Tall Grass Prairie


  • Alpine Zones
  • Alvars
  • Forests
  • Lake Shores
  • Prairies
  • River Valleys
  • Slopes
  • Tundra

Moisture Conditions:

  • Dry
  • Moderate
  • Moist

Light Preference:

  • Part Shade
  • Shade

Soil Preference:

  • Calcareous
  • Clay
  • Sand
Smooth Camas