Signs and lesions of death camas poisoning:

  • Salivation and bloody frothing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscular weakness and staggering
  • Pulse fast and weak
  • Prostration, labored breathing, gasping
  • Coma
  • Death due to heart failure
  • Death within a few hours to a few days
  • Congestion of lungs and kidneys
  • Minimal necrosis of skeletal and cardiac muscle

Death camas (Zigadenus spp.) is the common name of several species of plants that are poisonous to livestock. The more toxic of these species are grassy death camas (Z. gramineus), meadow death camas (Z. venenosus), foothill death camas (Z. paniculatus), and Nuttall's death camas (Z. nuttallii). They are found principally in the western range states.

Death camas is one of the first plants to begin growth in early spring. Without sufficient other forage, death camas may be heavily grazed and will cause severe losses. Spring snow storms may cover all forage except death camas, which may protrude through the snow and is available to the livestock. Sheep are most likely to be affected by feeding on death camas. Occasionally, cattle and horses are poisoned.

Death camas contains toxic steroidal alkaloids that occur throughout the plant; plants are dangerous at all times.

The bulb may be mistaken for those of the edible camas or quamash (Cammassia spp.) and can cause severe illness in humans. If bulbs are eaten, take the affected person to the emergency room of the nearest hospital immediately.



Where and when death camas grows:

Some species of death camas thrive on sandy soils; others grow on drier, rocky foothills. The more toxic species are seldom found above elevations of 8,000 ft. Death camas grows early in spring, matures, and enters dormancy during early summer when soil moisture declines.

The leaves appear very early in the spring. In the foothills, death camas generally flowers in April and May. At higher elevations, the plant may flower in late June and July.

How death camas affect livestock:

Death camas causes marked disturbance in respiration and heart action. A 100-lb. sheep may die if it eats ½ to 2 lb of green foliage. The amount of foliage that will cause an animal’s death depends on the species of plant eaten and the rate of consumption. Severely poisoned animals usually die; those less seriously affected may recover.

How to reduce loss:

To avoid poisoning, delay turnout until adequate good forage is available. Do not introduce hungry sheep into heavy stands of death camas. Avoid feeding, bedding, or trailing sheep through heavy stands of death camas.

There is no known treatment for death camas poisoning.

Research results show that early in the season, when plants have three to six leaves, death camas can be controlled by spraying with 2,4-D at the rate of 1½ to 3 lbs. ae/acre. After the flowering stalks appear, spraying is not effective.