Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council Plants Resource Page

Plant of the Month - Indian Paintbrush

Blue Larkspur

Indian Paintbrush

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Plant Description

Common Name(s):Indian Paintbrush
Scientific Name:Castilleja affinis
Plant Type:Perennial
Size:up to 24 inches
Habitat:Coastal Sage Scrub, Grassland, Chaparral
Blooms:February to May

Indian Paintbrush is a plant known to grow throughout most of the US. Normal blooming time is February to May, but the red inflorescence can be observed throughout the year.

What is normally taken for the 'flowers' on this plant - the (usually) scarlet brushy-looking tips - are really leaf bracts; the true flowers inconspicuously mingle with the leaves in the spring. As a photo below illustrates, sometimes nature dips the brush in yellow paint instead of the most common red.

The stem is woody and purplish in color, and the green leaves below the inflorescence are thin and lancelike. Flowers, leaves and stems are hairy. This plant is semi-parasitic, most commonly gaining water and food from other plants' roots. As such, it is difficult to transplant or grow from seed.

The genus name Castilleja is in honor of the Spanish botany professor Domingo Castillejo, and affinis means 'related to'. Some related and similar-looking plants also found in our mountains are Castilleja martinii, which looks nearly the same; Castilleja stenantha (or Castilleja minor ssp. spiralis, Annual Paintbrush or California Threadtorch), which has thinner inflorescences; and Castilleja foliosa or Woolly Paintbrush, with fuller inflorescences and leaves.

Contributed by Liz Baumann

Other Similar Plants:
Monkey Flower Mimulus Species
Twining Snapdragon Antirrhinum kelloggii
Indian Warrior Pedicularis densiflora
Owl’s Clover Castilleja exserta

Originally featured: September 2011
Last modified: May 12 2017 23:41:04.
Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Images Botanical Terms for Leaves