Fremont’s Star Lily

Fremont’s Star Lily © DSchiel

Fremont’s Death Camas
Toxicoscordion fremontii

Description (Jepson,

  • Monocotyledon
    • Monocots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • False-hellebore Family (Melanthiaceae)
  • Herbaceous perennial
    • 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 stem with stalked flowers opening from the bottom up) or panicle (branching stem with flowers opening from the bottom up)
    • Up to 20 star-shaped flowers
      • 3 petals and 3 sepals (outer flower parts), similar in appearance and collectively called tepals
      • 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.


  • 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 (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Wildlife
    • Avoided by herbivores due to plant toxicity, though deer will nip the tips of emerging tender leaves
  • 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,” an army officer who collected plants on four Western expeditions


  • Geophytes (e.g. plants growing from bulbs, corms, rhizomes, or enlarged taproots) are well 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, with numbers diminishing 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)
Soap Plant (L), Fremont’s Star Lily (R) © SBernhard

ID Tips

  • May be confused with soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum)
    • Fremont’s star lily
      • Has straight-edged, shiny, bright yellow-green leaves
      • Whorl of leaves has a strongly triangulate (keeled) base–you can feel it!
      • Flowers in early spring
    • 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
  • Check out this short video (Jepson 2020) for more tips on identifying Fremont’s star lily, called here by an alternative common name, death camas
Fruit © DSchiel

At Edgewood

  • Found in all habitats
  • Flowers February – June

See General References

Specific References

Jepson Herbarium. 2020, May 28. Toxicoscordion fremontii (death camas) [Video]. The Jepson Videos: Visual Guide to the Plants of California. The Regents of the University of California. YouTube.

Nature Collective. 2020. Fremont’s star lily.

Wood, M. 2013. Fremont star lily (Toxicoscordion fremontii). Yerba Buena Chapter-CNPS.