Nuttall Deathcamas, Deathcamas

Zigadenus nuttallii

Liliaceae (Lily family)


Nuttall deathcamas is a perennial herb arising from a bulb with a black, papery outer coating. Its unbranched, erect, leafy stalk grows to 15 to 30 inches tall. The mostly basal, curved leaves may be up to 15 inches long on larger specimens. The stalk terminates in a yellowish-white spike of flowers that give rise to egg-like seed capsules.


Nuttall deathcamas is found in the eastern third of Texas on open prairies, on hillsides with calcareous rocks and in post oak areas. This plant is seldom noticed except for the short period when it is in bloom.

Toxic Agent

Deathcamas contains alkaloids toxic to all livestock species, but it causes very few poisonings because it is unpalatable. Animals consuming as little as 0.25 percent of their body weight of green plants may display signs of poisoning in a few hours. Sheep have been known to eat the young plants in early spring when other forage is scarce. However, most of the deathcamas in Texas grows where there are few sheep. Humans have been poisoned after mistaking the bulbs for onions.

Signs of Livestock Ingestion

The clinical signs may include: Salivation; Vomiting; Depression; Weakness; Weak irregular pulse; Difficulty breathing; Coma; Death, Plant material may be identified in the rumen of dead animals.

Management Strategies

These plants are conspicuous when in flower and usually occur in small plant communities in a pasture. Mechanical removal is recommended, but care must be taken to dig out the bulb, which may be a foot or more below the surface. In early spring, do not allow sheep to graze pastures with large populations of deathcamas without adequate supplemental feed.