Castilleja coccinea (L.) Spreng.

Indian Paintbrush

Castilleja coccinea plant

Family - Orobanchaceae

Habit - Annual or biennial forb, with fibrous roots and soft rootstock, hemiparasitic.

Stems - Erect, to 50 cm, usually unbranched, usually solitary, purple, hollow, hairy.

Castilleja coccinea stemStem.

Castilleja coccinea stem2Stem and leaves.

Leaves - Basal leaves in rosette, persistent at flowering, oblanceolate to obovate, to 10 cm long, 2 cm broad. Stem leaves 2-7 cm long, , sessile, reduced upward, the main body linear or lanceolate, often with 1-2 pairs of linear lateral lobes, with prominent parallel venation, densely pubescent with multicellular hairs.

Castilleja coccinea basalsBasal rosette.

Castilleja coccinea leavesLeaves.

Castilleja coccinea leaf2Leaf abaxial.

Inflorescences - Compact to elongate, terminal spikes or spikelike racemes with at least the lowermost bracts more or less leafy, the median and upper bracts in some species becoming more incised and brightly colored, the flowers solitary in the axil of each bract; sessile or very short-stalked, lacking bractlets.

Castilleja coccinea inflorescence2Inflorescence.

Castilleja coccinea bractBract.

Flowers - Calyx zygomorphic, tubular, oblique at tip, 17-25 mm long, hairy, laterally two lobed, brightly colored at apex. Lobes about 1/3 the length of calyx, truncate at apex. Corolla yellow or pale green, not showy, tubular, bilabiate, 20-27 mm long, longer than calyx, sometimes extending beyond subtending bracts. Stamens 4, unequal in length, fused to middle of corolla tube. Style filiform, to +2.5 cm long, glabrous, exserted. Stigma capitate, lobed. Ovary superior, green, glabrous, 4-5 mm long, 2 mm in diameter. Locules 2. Placentation axile. Septum with protrusion into locule, seeds (ovules) many.

Castilleja coccinea flower2Flower.

Fruits - Capsules 8-10 mm long, somewhat obliquely oblong-ovoid, glabrous. Seeds variously shaped (even within a single capsule), 0.8-1.4 mm long, asymmetrically oblong to oblong-ovoid or trapezoidal in outline, the outer wall loosely attached, with somewhat enlarged, translucent cells that typically lose their outer wall at maturity, the surface thus with a fine network of prominent, polygonal ridges and pits, tan to yellowish brown.

Flowering - April - July.

Habitat - Prairies, glades, pastures, wet meadows, open woods, roadsides.

Origin - Native to U.S.

Lookalikes - Other species of Castilleja. C. purpurea exists in Missouri but is rare and possibly extirpated.

Other info. - This brightly colored plant is found throughout most of Missouri, but is rare or absent in the northwestern and southeastern corners. The main part of its distribution is the U.S. Midwest, extending into Canada and also including some regions to the east. The plant is easy to identify, since nothing else, outside of other members of the genus, looks like it. To the west of Missouri, the genus radiates into numerous species, which can be more challenging to identify. Missouri is home to another member of the genus, Castilleja sessiliflora, but this plant's bracts and calyces are pale greenish. A potential lookalike, C. purpurea has been collected in the state, but only once, in 1903, and is not known to currently exist here.

It's hard not to notice the brilliant splash of colors these plants bring to prairies and glades. The color is produced by the bracts and calyces. The corolla itself is pale greenish in color and relatively inconspicuous. Hummingbirds and many insects are attracted to the plant. The dominant color of the plants ranges from yellow, through shades of pink and orange, to red. As usual, Steyermark listed forms based on calyx and bract color. Form coccinea, depicted above, has reddish coloration and is more common. Form lutescens Farw. has yellow or cream coloration. An image of this form is shown below.

Castilleja coccinea plant

Photographs taken in Linville, NC., 5-11-03, in Eminence, MO., 5-23-03, and off Hwy U in Benton County, MO., 5-15-04 (DETenaglia); also at Shaw Nature Reserve, Franklin County, MO, 5-5-2008, Valley View Glade Natural Area, Jefferson County, MO, 5-18-2010, and St. Joe State Park, St. Francois County, MO, 4-28-2014 (SRTurner)