Camas Journal, May 4, 2022

Today, I found time to visit a third field in Salem with lots of camas. Minto-Brown Island Park has several fields at least two of them have camas, the first near where the new Salem waterfront trail connects, & the second in an area called Farm Field. The park also has a third camas area to the west of the fields within the Eola section, in an area where there is heavy over-story of 20 year old trees and the trails interlink. I have not seen camas anywhere else in the park in the years I have been visiting. Much of the park is reclaimed farm pastures, remnant orchards of old European Hazels, and former Willamette Logging Company (later Boise Cascade) settling ponds for logging waste. The large basins are off the new walk bridge are the settling ponds, likely containing much industrial waste under the top soil. The area should be a Superfund site which is why the city is not allowing people to wander all over the settling pond basins. The rest of the Park, beyond the intersection (of the new and old park) is subdivided into former pastures, trails and some woodlands. Much of the Eola section is planted varieties of trees (oak, fir, pine, willow, hemlock, etc.) in distinct rows and sections, the planting made in around the year 2000, as part of a restoration effort. They are pleasant to tour if strange since there is no diversity in the planting at all as the trees are not intermixed.

Minto-Brown Island Park and areas of camas marked in red

The camas in field 1 each year is very dispersed, the field has significant areas of grass which grow very fast. This is some sort of fescue and after it grows tall its tough to see the camas.  Field two was the best camas for viewing. The camas is right off the trail and the field is quite large. it grows in three section to the right and left of the trail. At one point the field is interrupted by a area of juncus, probably a wetland area, nicely laid out.


Juncus and Camas

The third section is to the west of this and the camas extends back from the trail into the field at least 100 yards. in this three sections I have noticed a few of the white camas plants. Last year some helpful person pulled the tops off of the white camas, they were likely assuming that the white camas flowers were death camas. But they are not death camas, instead a light or white variety of the regular camas. There is actually a lot of damage to the camas in this park by humans. Today I saw a whole plant had been pulled out. When I walked through the field I was careful to not step on new camas plants, but saw that the city is regularly mowing the field. there were row after row of tire marks , some across the early camas plants. I think they will hold off to allow the camas to mature, like they did in years past. Farm Field would be a good candidate for regular cultural burning since there are no habitations or other structures nearby, and plenty of native plants which would benefit from the fire, and the whole park is surrounded by wetlands, marshes, ponds, and waterways connected to the Willamette River.

A reminder that camas in Chinuk wawa is “Lakamas,” while in Kalapuyan it is “ant’ip” (the camas) or “t’ip” (camas).

The camas at this point is not fully up, but they will be in about a week. It is a good size camas, will probably go to waste high. There are a few individuals who are up but the majority is just beginning to push upwards. All of the camas I saw where purple, the white camas is not up here yet. A few plants I saw were lavender. This field has been the most interesting, because the camas is the first to take charge of the area. Its is not until later in the summer that the rest of the prairie plants will rise. This is where I noticed this for the first time, the camas rising earlier than most other flowering plants, and then exhausted and going to seed when other varieties are rising. in this manner the camas is ready to dig and harvest in mid summer. If this was a traditional field with regular burns, the camas would be fully expended by September when the tribes set the fields on fire, the bulbs fully protected underground. There are indications in tribal oral history that the Kalapuyans could dig camas anytime of the year that the camas was not in its flower stage. They would harvest some in early spring (Tualatin Calendar) before the plant flowered, and in mid and end summer (Kalapuya Texts) in various accounts. The bulbs could then provide food nearly anytime of the year if the tribe was in need.

In the park are a number of surprising trees showing the natural diversity in some section are preserved. There is A lot of Hazel and I am suspicious its mostly European hazel. It does produce nuts and its scattered along all of the trails. There are a few cherry trees and what looks like plum, probably a prune variety as that was common in Salem at farms in the early 20th century. There is also a few madrone trees in the park, very surprising.

Hazel bud

Madrone trunk

One thought on “Camas Journal, May 4, 2022

  1. “A reminder that camas in Chinuk wawa is ‘Lakamas,’ while in Kalapuyan it is ‘ant’ip’ (the camas) or ‘t’ip’ (camas).”

    I live in Clackamas County. I never realized this before: Clackamas = Lakamas = Camas. I literally live on camas land. I’ve been restoring the tiny piece of land that I live on to native plant habitat. I planted some camas last fall, but this encourages me to plant more.

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