Wild hyacinth, Camassia scolloides, is a perennial flowering plant belonging to the lily family which is native to the Eastern United States and southeastern Canada. It is an herbaceous plant, which means it has a soft green stem that dies off every winter, in contrast to a brown woody stem like those found on rose bushes. The plant grows from a bulb that remains alive all winter, producing new leaves, stems and flowers every spring. Common names for this plant include camas, quamash, Indian hyacinth and Eastern or Atlantic camas.
This attractive plant has waxy green leaves which can grow up to 12 inches (30.5 cm) long. These leaves surround a flower stock which can grow up to 2 feet (.61 m) high. The flowers of wild hyacinth range from white to blue to lavender. The blossoms have six petals that splay out in a star shape, and 6 stamens which stretch out from the center, ending in bright yellow anthers. They produce a strong, sweet scent and attract bees and other pollen seeking insects.
Wild hyacinth grows naturally in areas with plenty of moisture and rich, well-drained soil. They can be found both in open prairies and woodlands, primarily due to their ability to grow well in either shade or sunshine. The bulb of one species, Camassia quamash, was used for food by Native Americans, but the rest of the plant is poisonous. In fact, gardeners with sensitive skin may wish to wear gloves when handling the plant.
In the US, wild hyacinth can be found in the eastern half of the continent along the Eastern seaboard from Georgia up to the Canadian border and ranging as far west as Illinois in the north and Texas in the South. Due possibly to the cooler temperatures in Canada, the plant occurs naturally in limited areas on some of the islands in Lake Erie. The plant has been placed on Canada’s protected species list under the Endangered Species Act of 2007.
Hyacinth is also cultivated for gardens and grown indoors. The seeds of the plant grow first into bulbs which eventually produce the plant. Most gardeners prefer to start with a bulb since it takes five years to grow a mature plant from seed. Medium to large bulbs should be planted approximately 6 inches (15.2 cm) deep and several inches apart; smaller bulbs should be planted a bit closer to the surface.
Other species of flowers throughout the world, such as various bluebells found in Asia, Europe and Africa, are also referred to as wild hyacinth. Unlike the American variety, these plants have bell or trumpet shaped blossoms. Though they also grow from bulbs or rhizomes, they do not have a separate flower stock. Their blossoms, which grow at the end of the leaf stems, occur in a range of blues, pinks and whites. Other common names for the European variety include wood hyacinth, Spanish bluebell and harebell.