Fremont’s Star Lily

Fremont’s Star Lily © DSchiel

Fremont’s Death Camas
Toxicoscordion fremontii
NATIVE

Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)

    • Monocotyledon
      • Monocots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
    • False-hellebore / Bunchflower Family (Melanthiaceae)
    • Herbaceous perennial
    • Geophyte (plant with an underground storage organ)
      • Grows from a bulb (short underground stem with fleshy leaves, e.g. onion)
    • Leaves
      • Basal and alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem)
      • Up to 1 in. wide and 20 in. long
      • Shiny bright green
      • Distinct midline fold
    • Flowers
      • Grow on an erect, thick flower stalk, to 16 in.
      • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is a raceme (unbranched flower cluster with short, equal stalks) or panicle (many-branching, loose flower cluster)
      • Up to 20 star-shaped flowers
        • 3 petals and 3 sepals (outer flower parts), similar in appearance and collectively called tepals/li>
        • White to yellow, with greenish-yellow nectar glands
      • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
    • Fruit is an oblong, 3-chambered capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open)
    • Height to 3 ft.

    Distribution

      • Native to California
        • Grows in a variety of habitats, on slopes and rocky outcrops, including grasslands, chaparral, mixed evergreen forests, and alkali sinks
        • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
      • Outside of California, grows from southern Oregon to Baja California, Mexico
      • Grows at elevations to 3,000 ft.

      Uses (Picking or removing any natural material from public land is illegal)

        • Avoided by herbivores due to plant toxicity
        • CAUTION – Plant parts contain alkaloids that are toxic to both humans and livestock
          • All fresh plant parts (leaves, bulbs and flowers) are toxic
          • Dried plant parts, especially the seeds and capsules, are even more toxic
        Flower © DSchiel

        Name Derivation

          • Toxicoscordion (tox-i-ko-SKOR-dee-on) – from the Greek toxikos, “toxic,” and skordión, “garlic,” for the poisonous bulb
          • fremontii (FREE-mont-ee-eye)named for John Charles Fremont (1813-1890), “the Pathfinder,” army officer who collected plants on four Western expeditions

          Notes

            • Geophytes, e.g. plants growing from bulbs, corms, and rhizomes, are adapted to survive fire, our Mediterranean climate’s long, dry summers, and extended droughts
              • Above-ground growth dies back after flowering, while underground the plant survives with stored water and nutrients
            • Pollinated by a variety of hover flies (Syrphidae), soldier flies (Stratiomyidae), and solitary mining bees (Andrenidae)
            • Plants can be abundant after fire; numbers diminish in following years
            • Fremont’s star lily is a death camas, a member of the Melanthieae tribe, which all contain toxic alkaloids
              • Toxicoscordian venenosum var. venenosum, commonly called death camas, also grows at Edgewood in a wetland, off-trail location
              • Bread that included flour from ground Toxicoscordian bulbs is believed to have caused serious illness in several members of the Lewis and Clark expedition, including Captain Lewis (Corelli 2004 and Nature Collective 2020)
            Fruit © DSchiel

            ID Tips

              • May be confused with soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum)
                • Fremont’s star lily
                  • Has straight-edged, shiny, bright green leaves
                  • Whorl of leaves has a strongly triangulate (keeled) base–you can feel it!
                  • Flowers in early spring
                  • Deer tend not to eat the fresh leaves because of plant toxicity
                • Soap plant
                  • Has wavy leaves, matte on the upper surface, blue-green in maturity
                  • Whorl of leaves not strongly triangulate (keeled) at the base
                  • Flowers in late spring/early summer
                  • Deer often heavily browse the tender new leaves
              • Check out this short Jepson video for more tips on identifying Fremont’s star lily, called here by an alternative common name, death camas

              At Edgewood

                • Found in all habitats
                • Flowers February – June

                See General References

                Specific References

                  Nature Collective. 2020. Fremont’s Star Lily.

                    Wood, M. 2013. Fremont Star Lily (Toxicoscordion fremontii). Yerba Buena Chapter-CNPS.