Mountain Death-camas
Zigadenus elegans Pursh
Family: Liliaceae, Lily
Genus: Zigadenus
Synonyms: Zygadenus elegans
Other names: mountain deathcamas
Nomenclature: elegans = elegant
Nativity / Invasiveness: Montana native plant
Medicinal plant
Poisonous plant

General: gray-green perennial, often with a whitish waxy coating. Stems erect, 15-70 cm tall, often pinkish, from oval bulbs covered with blackish scales.

Leaves: mainly basal, grass-like, keeled, covered with a whitish waxy coating, 10-25 cm long and 2-15 mm broad. Stem leaves alternate, few and small.

Flowers: foul-smelling, several in a tall cluster, simple or freely branched, often over 30 cm tall. Flower stalks mostly 1-3.5 cm long, ascending. Tepals greenish-white, distinct, spreading, ovate to oblong-obovate, blunt-tipped, 8-11 mm long, not stalked, with an inner, dark green, cordate gland near the base. Stamens attached at the base of each tepal, about as long as the tepals. Ovary 1/4-1/3 inferior, the styles distinct, about 3 mm long. Late June-August.

Fruits: capsules, 15-20 mm long, erect, 3-lobed, oblong, exceeding the withered tepals. Seeds numerous, straw-colored, linear-ellipsoid, about 5 mm long.


Moist sites, in forests, meadows, and rocky slopes to open grasslands, montane to alpine zone, in most parts of MT. Also from AK, B.C. and Alberta to WA, OR, NV, AZ, CO, NM, TX, and e. to ND and SD.
Medicinal Uses

The Thompson Indians prepared pulverized, baked root of mountain death camas used as salve on painful areas, especially back and feet.

Poisonous Properties

All parts of this plant contain the poisonous alkaloid zygadenine, which some claim to be more potent than strychnine. Two bulbs, raw or cooked, can be fatal. Poisoning result from confusing these bulbs with those of edible species. The bulbs of death camas are oval and covered with blackish scales. This plant causes fatalities among livestock. The lethal dose is estimated at between 2.0-6.0% of animal body weight, however this species is considered to be less toxic than meadow death camas, Zigadenus venenosus. Symptoms of poisoning are similar for all species of animals. Symptoms in sheep include excessive salivation, froth around the nose and mouth, nausea, vomiting, muscular weakness, ataxia, possible coma, and death. The heart fails before respiration. Postmortem findings reveal the heart in complete diastole. Lesions include severe pulmonary congestion, hemorrhage, and edema.

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