In western North America, there are several harvest lilies in the general Brodiaea and Dichelostema. In Coos county, Brodiaea coronaria and B. terrestris can be found. Near the Siuslaw river, Dichelostema capitatum can be found. Several of these species have edible bulbs and were traditional foods of several California and western Oregon tribes. Traditionally they are classified as part of the lily family (Liliaceae) but recently some taxonimist-botanists have placed them in other family arrangements. Not being a professional botanist I won’t attempt to sort all that out – in practically every wildflower guide book on the market you’ll find them grouped in with the lilies, so we’ll leave it at that for the time being.
In Hanis Coos these plants are known as wɪllɪts’, in Siuslaw/Lower Umpqua as k’wʊsk’w, and in Upper Coquille Athabaskan as gusɫɛ which means something like ‘small camas’. Apparently in most SW Oregon Athabaskan languages Brodiaea species were known as ‘small camas’ because the flowers to resemble camas blooms – and probably the bulbs are similar in appearance, but smaller in size.
The harvest lily bulbs were harvested in late spring and early summer primarily. They could be cooked by boiling or roasting in earth ovens. According to one Coos informant, Frank Drew, the harvest lily bulbs were even tastier than those of camas.
Harvest lily – probably Dichelostema capitatum – was common enough in one spot near the junction of North Fork Siuslaw and the main river that the site was called k’wʊsk’wyamus.