The paintbrushes are species of Castilleja, named for Domingo Castilleja, an early Spanish botanist. There are many – about 250 species – in the west, of these forty grow in the Pacific Northwest. Their classification is difficult since the species look similar. The flowers of the various paintbrushes are almost hidden by colorful surrounding leaves, called bracts. They occur in many shades and colors – rose, pink, red, orange, yellow, and even white. The flowers themselves are made up of a four-spiked calyx from which five united petals, called a corolla, protrude. The corolla is shaped into a narrow, elongate, greenish-yellow tube. The two lower lobes of the corolla form the characteristic two lips. There are two tiny lateral ones, and then an overhanging beaklike fifth lobe known as a 'galea', (the Latin word for helmet). The leaves of paintbrushes are alternate, lance-shaped or linear or finely divided into 3-5 linear segments. The fruits are capsules, with many net-veined seeds. All paintbrushes have rather woody, well branched root systems. The plants are 'hemi-parasites' or partly parasitic on the roots of other plants, such as sagebrush and rabbitbrush. This makes them difficult to grow in a home garden, which does not have the needed host plants.
Guide to Identify Presented Species of Genus Castilleja
BRACTS RED OR PURPLE. MOST LEAVES ENTIRE
C. crista-galli Mountainside Indian Paintbrush Stems 25-50 cm tall, from woody base. Dry areas, open to shaded.
Flowers red, minutely fine-hairy. Bracts have 3-5 pointed lobes.
Lower leaves lance-shaped to linear. Upper leaves with 2 side-lobes.
C. miniata Scarlet Indian Paintbrush Stems 20-60 cm tall, woody base. Open or wooded sites, foothills-montane.
Flowers red (to yellow). Bracts lance-shaped or cleft with pointed lobes.
Leaves narrowly lance-shaped to linear, hairless to slightly glandular hairy.
C. rhexifolia Alpine Indian Paintbrush Stems 20-60 cm tall. Common in meadows in subalpine-alpine zones.
Flowers pink-purple. Bracts lance-shaped or cleft with pointed lobes.
Leaves narrowly lance-shaped, hairless to slightly glandular hairy.
BRACTS YELLOW OR GREENISH. UPPER LEAVES DEEPLY LOBED
C. nivea Snow Indian Paintbrush Stems 5-15 cm tall, with short, woolly hairs. Montane to alpine zones.
Flowers yellow, woolly-hairy. Bracts are hairy, divided into 3 lobes.
Leaves linear, mostly with 2 side-lobes, with short, woolly hairs.