The plant featured in today's Botany Photo of the Day, Castilleja rubida, is a member of Orobanchaceae (broomrape family), which consists of about 90 genera and more than 2000 annual and perennial herbaceous or shrubby species. These species are distributed broadly throughout the world, but are particularly concentrated in the temperate regions of Eurasia, North America, and South America. All members of the family are in some capacity parasitic, and—variously capable (hemiparasitic) and incapable (holoparasitic) of photosynthesis—they appropriate nutrients from their host plant by way of specialized haustoria, which are long fungal cells that (in the Orobanchaceae) extend out from the roots. A consequence of this parasitism is that several of the family’s species hold a sort of inverted economic importance, perpetually threatening to damage or even kill economically remunerative crops should the latter momentarily lose the protection of normally watchful farmers and gardeners.
Castilleja, commonly called Indian Paintbrush or Prairie-fire, is a genus of about 200 herbaceous annual and perennial plants native to western areas of North America and to northeastern Asia. In 1917, Oregon declared Castilleja linariifolia its state flower. Though plant roots and green tissues tend to concentrate high levels of toxic selenium from the surrounding soil, the flowers of Castilleja species do not (or at least do not to the same degree), and when consumed in moderation they make a healthy and sweet-tasting addition to salads and sandwiches. Plants also have a history of medicinal application, as Native American tribes have used extracts from Castilleja species in hair-washes, as an immune system enhancer, and in treatments for rheumatism.
Just over 13 years ago, Mark Egger took today's photo on the southern slopes of the Matterhorn in the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area of Oregon's Wallowa Mountains. Notice the small flowers pressing out from in between the rich purple of the bracts.
Thanks, Mark, for such a lovely image. (Original)
Click here to access Mark's other photos of C. rubida, as well as his helpful description of the species.