staff photo by alexander simone
Death camas is a dangerous perennial that counts Marion County within its native territory. The plant can cause convulsions or even death if ingested. Pictured is a death camas blooming along Sunflower Rd. near US-50.
Deadly blooms dot county
Death is lurking in the weeds in Marion County, but no one seems overly concerned about it.
A poisonous perennial with a name befitting its effects, death camas has made an appearance in the area this spring.
Native to the region, death camas is actually fairly common on the prairie, according to Matt Meierhoff, supervisory district conservationist for National Resources Conservation Services here.
“It’s not that we’ve done anything specifically as far as education on it or control efforts,” he said. “It’s just considered to be a part of the natural part of the prairie.”
Fifteen species of death camas occur naturally from Washington to Arkansas, according to Colorado State University’s Guide to Poisonous Plants.
But the flower’s frequency may vary locally.
Marilyn Jones, who lives south of Peabody, rarely sees the plant in her area.
“There’s not enough to be worried about around here,” she said. “It may be native but it’s mighty scarce.”
Jones struggles to recall even six sightings of the plant in the last few decades, though outbreaks have been seen this year near US-50 and Sunflower Rd..
Death camas is not considered a noxious weed by Kansas Department of Agriculture, according to Josh Housman, the county’s noxious weed supervisor.
“If it becomes invasive then the Kansas board would go in and declare it, and it would have to go through and be adopted,” he said.
Housman has never heard of a plant being added to the noxious weed list for being dangerous.
The plant is not a major liability to cattle unless they eat it, Meierhoff said.
“This death camas continues to grow because cattle completely avoid it,” he said. “They know it’s a toxic plant.”
Sheep are most susceptible to poisoning, according to CSU, but ingestion by people also can lead to convulsions, comas, and even death.
“It comes down to ‘don’t eat plants you don’t know,’” Meierhoff said. “There are actually a number of plants that would be considered dangerous out on the native prairie, even something like poison ivy. If you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it.”