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Common Name: Indian Paintbrush
Other Common Names: Desert Paintbrush, Spring Paintbrush
Scientific Name: Castilleja chromosa
Family: Figwort Family (Scrophulariaceae)
Distribution: common and widely distributed in the Intermountain West
Habitat: creosote bush, blackbrush, salt desert shrub, sagebrush, and pinyon- juniper communities
Habit: perennial herb
Foliage Color: dark green, covered with stiff, whitish hairs
Leaves: lance-shaped, the upper ones three-lobed
Flower Color: bracts and calyx brilliant crimson, corollas yellowish green
Flower Form: flowers borne in dense terminal spikes; corollas slender, inconspicuous, with elongate beak (galea).
Flowering Season: early spring to early summer
Cultural Requirements: Prefers full sun and rich to well-drained soils, but tolerates partial shade. Fully cold-hardy. Drought hardy (i.e., needs no supplemental water after establishment on the Wasatch Front). Like many of its relatives, it is a water parasite that survives drought by attaching to the roots of other plants--it is not fussy about which plants, utilizing many species of flowers, shrubs, and grasses. This makes paintbrushes a little tricky to propagate.
Culture: We have had success propagating several paintbrush species using the following protocol. The seeds, which are tiny and encased in delicate net bags that are beautiful to behold under a microscope, are dormant and require moist chilling to germinate. When the radicles emerge (after 8-12 weeks in chilling), we plant the seeds in tubes or book planter cells and grow them out under strong light for 12-16 weeks. When we have sturdy plants 3-4" tall, we pot them up with a "buddy" of another species in a gallon container and grow them together for 8-12 weeks of pot-cohabitation. Survival after outplanting is high, and paintbrush plants often flower the first year. Direct seeding in autumn around already-established "buddy" plants can also be successful.
Uses and Notes of Interest: The bright crimson of this paintbrush is one of the most welcome sights of spring in sagebrush country. The plant provides early nectar for hummingbirds and has a long bloom time. The seeds can be dumped out of upright capsules a few weeks after flowering.