Castilleja coccinea

It is likely this is the first member of the Orobanchaceae that I ever knowingly encountered–a small patch of scarlet Indian paintbrush grew on the edge of some gravel pits about 10km from my childhood home. This species is perennial, so that patch is possibly still there if someone hasn’t torn up the rocky soil with an ATV or the like. I do remember being taken out by my parents specifically to see that patch on one or two occasions.

Castilleja has somewhere in the neighbourhood of 160-200 species, and almost all of these are in western North America. Castilleja coccinea is one of the exceptions, as it is broadly distributed across eastern North America. These plants, with their scarlet-red bracts, were photographed in early May.

Castilleja coccinea
Castilleja coccinea

21 responses to “Castilleja coccinea”

  1. Martha

    Do you know what growing conditions they prefer? I’ve had a hard time getting them established in our zone-7a 3 acre yarden. The seeds do reasonably well the first year but die out the next.

  2. Jim Cornish

    Brings back memories of my visit to western Canada a few years ago. It was the first time seeing this plant, whose Native American beliefs about its origins are just as beautiful.

  3. Jean Clark

    The beauty of ‘Nature’ never ceases to amaze me. Just lovely.Thank you for all your posts.

  4. karen

    Thanks for the beautiful photos. I noticed the USDA Plants Database still has this genera listed under the Scrophulariaceae. Can anyone recommend a good resource that has up to date taxonomic revisions?

  5. Eric Hunt

    Martha – these plants are hemi-parasites. They need a host plant to attach in order to persist more than a season or two. For that reason Castilleja are fairly difficult to establish in cultivation.
    I’ve only seen one in a garden myself – a plant at UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, growing in and among a host shrub.

  6. Chris

    This is a great site that I use often:

  7. Eric Hunt

    Daniel – MOBOT claims this species is mainly a biennial, persisting via reseeding.
    Karen – I’ve actually found Wikipedia to be very current on taxonomy. The botany editors there follow the same authority as BPoTD – APG III.
    Here is a lovely patch growing under a powerline right-of-way just north of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, in the Ozarks:

    (Click for a larger version)

  8. Peony Fan

    These are gorgeous! What a jolt of color! Just what we need in the dead of winter here in Minnesota.

  9. Elizabeth Kidd

    This is one of my favourite plants that grows on the alpine meadows of the Canadian Rockies. The colours seem to become paler and pinker as the altitude increases. Brings back fine memories.

  10. Mark Egger

    Regarding Karen’s comment, The PLANTS database has numerous outdated classifications and inaccuracies in regards to the Lamiales in general and Castilleja specifically. An the Wikipedia listings and OK but very limited and partly inaccurate. I tried to get involved in the latter but I got fed up with the restrictions and the process. If you enjoy Castillejas and other groups in the Scrophulariaceae in the old sense (including the current Orobanchaceae, Plantaginaceae, and Phrymaceae, please come visit my Flickr site:
    Here is a link to the Castilleja sets on my site, where you will find many photos from (usually) multiple populations of all North American species, and most of the other species found in Mexico, Central America and South America:
    Included in these is a set on C. coccinea, including some additional color forms of that species.
    Finally, here is a link to the most up to date classification of the Lamiales, edited by Dick Olmstead at the University of Washington:
    As to cultivation, there are numerous papers on Castilleja cultivation in the rock gardening literature, particularly the Rock Gardeners’ Quarterly (I think that’s the name…) They are tricky but not at all impossible… Some folks I’ve talked to or read about have numerous species in cultivation.

  11. Jane Campbell

    This places I have seen them growing are rocky and around or just above timberline: higher elevations in the Coast range and the shoulders of Cascades Mts Hood, Adams, Ranier, Jefferson, Three Sisters Olympic Peninsula, etc., mostly on fairly exposed southern faces. I’ve seen them blooming with gentians, pearly everlasting ( anaphalis margaritacea) and larkspur (delphinium of some sort).
    (I don’t know how one attaches photos to comments here.)

  12. Ann Kent HTM

    Interesting how many personal comments and stories these images invoked. I first saw Castilleja growing in several locations in the Comox Valley, soon after my family emigrated to Canada, and was thrilled when small patches appeared in the gravelly soil on our own property just above the Courtenay River. Thank you for the evocative images, Daniel, and to everyone else for some excellent sources of information.

  13. Lori

    The publication you refer to, Mark, is the”Rock Garden Quarterly” put out by the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS) They have a website. They are a great resource and a great group of people. There are also local Chapters across the country who welcome interested newcomers. The chapters usually put out a monthly newsletter too, some of which (like the Berkshire Chapter) can be accessed online without being a member.
    Many members have experimented with Castilleja, some with some measure of success.
    ~ Lori

  14. Sue Vargas

    Wildflowers are a national treasure.

  15. Heather, Melbourne Australia

    I’m so glad your parents dragged you along to see things like this. Mine did too. So much of it actually stuck, even though at the time I may not have been very interested It’s important that we pass our interest on to our children.

  16. Diana Ferguson

    Magnificent – thanks for posting

  17. elizabeth a airhart

    the state flower of wyoming usa january 1917
    the indian legend is a lovely read thank you all

  18. donnacanadensis

    Is this the same species of Castilleja that grows on the cliffs above beaches in the west coast of southern Vancouver island? I have them growing in my seaside garden just west of Sooke near French Beach. About 5 years ago I planted a seedling on a large rock outcropping covered with a thin layer of soil and they have spread nicely. There are no grasses near them. They grow near salal and a few young hemlocks. I’ll have to wait until the summer for a picture.

  19. Dan Hamon

    There are some very rare species of Castelleja in the Sierra Nevada Mountains above Fresno. Small populations in single valleys. a white spp a yellow species and a powder blue species within the Sierra National Forest above Edison Lake.

  20. Carol Schuster

    Loved the image and the comments from all over the country. We also have them growing here at The Ridges Sanctuary in Baileys Harbor Wisconsin (the ‘thumb’ Door County). Ours grown in open sandy soil that has been kept open between the two Range Lights.

  21. Sheryl

    Gorgeous photos! Indian paintbrush is a common “wayside” flower, growing in the ditches along roads in northern Alberta, where I grew up.

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