How do you tell the difference between wild camas and death onion?

Answered by Willie Powers

Differentiating between wild onion and death camas can be challenging, but there are a few key characteristics that can help identify these plants. As mentioned earlier, one major distinction between the two is the presence or absence of an onion odor. Additionally, there are some differences in appearance and habitat that can aid in telling them apart.

1. Odor: Wild onion emits a strong onion odor when any part of the plant is crushed or bruised. This distinctive smell can be a helpful clue in identifying wild onion. On the other hand, death camas lacks any noticeable odor, making it easier to differentiate from wild onion solely based on smell.

2. Appearance: While wild onion and death camas may share some similarities in appearance, there are a few notable differences. Both plants typically have long, slender leaves, but the leaves of wild onion tend to be more cylindrical, while death camas leaves are often flat and broader. The flowers of both plants can be white, but wild onion flowers may also be pink or purple, whereas death camas flowers are typically only white or cream-colored.

3. Habitat: Another useful factor in distinguishing between wild onion and death camas is their preferred habitats. Wild onion is commonly found in meadows, pastures, and open areas with well-drained soil. It can also be cultivated in home gardens. On the other hand, death camas is typically found in moist, marshy areas, along streams, or in wet meadows. Knowing the typical habitat of each plant can provide valuable clues in identification.

4. Additional characteristics: It’s worth noting that the bulbs of wild onion are often clustered together, forming clusters of small bulbs, while death camas bulbs are usually solitary. Examining the bulbs can provide further insight into the plant’s identity. Additionally, if you observe the plants over time, you may notice that wild onion tends to bloom earlier in the spring, while death camas blooms later in the season.

To summarize, distinguishing between wild onion and death camas can be done by considering the presence or absence of an onion odor, examining the plant’s appearance (including leaves, flowers, and bulbs), and taking note of their respective habitats. Being cautious and observant when foraging or identifying plants is crucial to avoid any potential confusion and ensure your safety.