It’s likely I’ve expressed in the past my love/hate relationship with this genus. Love to be in their presence, love to photograph Castilleja, but hate to identify them. I’m hoping I have the identification correct in this case. I wrongly assumed all of the paintbrushes that looked like this at the high elevations of Steens were the same taxon, but the key in Flora of Steens Mountain suggests otherwise.
Wavy-leaved paintbrush is found in western North America. The variety pinetorum is native to Idaho, Oregon, Nevada and California, where it grows in dry places. Depending on the reference, at least a few other varieties are sometimes recognized in the Great Basin area. On Steens Mountain, Castilleja applegatei var. pinetorum is commonly found growing in association with sagebrush at higher elevations (above 2000m (6561 ft)). Having visited Steens Mtn three times in the past 4 years, 2007 seemed to have been a banner year for the local population with thousands of individual plants dotting the landscape. This photograph is from 2009, though, when plants were more often found in small pockets of the landscape.
Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany Database lists this taxon as being used as a beverage by the Miwok peoples, who occasionally sipped the flower for its nectar, something I suppose I will have to try on my next occasion to visit the area.
Like other members of its genus, Castilleja applegatei var. pinetorum is a hemiparasite (via haustoria). Though it does not to parasitize to survive (the species is chlorophyllous, after all), parasitizing other species can produce more robust, longer-living plants. In the case of Steens Mountain, I suspect the host plant is typically Artemisia tridentata, or big sagebrush.