Common Name
Death Camas
Botanic Name
Zigadenus Michx.
Plant Family
There are about 15 species of Death Camas in North America that range in habitat from moist mountain valleys to the sandy hills and plains.
Animals Affected
Sheep, cattle, pigs, goats, and humans. Rare intoxications of horses and chickens have been reported.
Death camas
Toxic Principle
Death camas has several steroidal alkaloids similar to those found in Veratrum (false hellebore). The bulb and mature leaves are most toxic. The alkaloids have potent hypotensive activity. Sheep show signs of poisoning after eating as little as 1/2 lb of the green plants.
Hairless, perennials, with linear, grass-like, v-shaped, parallel-veined leaves arising basally from an onion-like bulb. The leaves are not hollow like those of onions, and do smell like onion. The infloresence is a terminal raceme with numerous 6 petalled, small, white, cream to green flowers. The fruit is a 3 lobed capsule. Common species of death camas include: Showy or mountain deathcamas- Z. elegans Meadow death camas - Z. venenosus
Excessive salivation, vomiting
Muscular weakness, tremors, incoordination, ataxia and prostration occur with death camas.
There is no specific treatment for death camas poisoning. The injection of 2 mg of atropine sulfate and 8 mg picrotoxin per 100 lbs body weight is reported to be effective in treating early poisoning of sheep. Supportive therapy with intravenous fluids is helpful in combatting the hypotensive effects of the death camas. Bloated animals should be kept in a sternal position and a stomach tube passed to relieve rumen pressure.
Respiratory System
Nervous System
Convulsions, coma and death
Diagnostic Tests
A diagnois of death camas poisoning is usually based on finding an evidence of the plant being eaten and recogning the plant parts in the rumen contents. Zygacine may be detectable in the rumen contents using mass spectrometry. Pulmonary congestion is the most significant post mort?? finding.
Special Notes
Similar signs and death losses have occurred in sheep after eating stagger grass (Amianthum muscaetoxicum) a plant similar in appearance to death camas, and found in the Eastern United States from New York to Florida, and west to Arkansas. 1) Welch KD, Panter KE, Gardner DR, Stegelmeier BL, Green BT, Pfister JA, Cook D. The acute toxicity of the death camas (Zigadenus species) alkaloid zygacine in mice, including the effect of methyllycaconitine coadministration on zygacine toxicity. J Anim Sci. 2011 May;89(5):1650-7. doi: 10.2527/jas.2010-3444. PMID: 21521823.
Plains death camas (Zigadenus venenosus)