Indian Paintbrush

The Indian paintbrush is my favorite native flower especially because it blooms at the same time as the bluebonnet, creating this beautiful carpet of reds and blues lining every highway in Texas making any road trip worth your while.                               

Castilleja, commonly known as Indian paintbrush or prairie-fire, has about 200 species of annual and perennial plants native to the west of the Americas from Alaska south to the Andes, northern Asia, and one species as far west as the Kola Peninsula in northwestern Russia. These plants are classified in the broomrape family, Orobanchaceae (following major rearrangements of the order Lamiales starting around 2001; previously being called the Scrophulariaceae). 

The Indian Paint brush we are so familiar with is the (Castilleja indivisa Engelm, Entire leaf indian paintbrush, Texas paintbrush, Indian paintbrush, Scarlet paintbrush, or the Entire-leaf indian-paintbrush) One of the popular paintbrushes, this annual or biennial grows 6-16 in. high. It has several stems that form clumps topped by bright-red, paintbrush-like spikes. The flowers are actually inconspicuous and greenish, but do have beautiful showy, red-tipped bracts. They sometimes produce a light yellow or pure white variation mixed in with the reds. Together, the flowers and bracts form 3-8 in. spikes.


The flowers of Indian paintbrush are edible, and were consumed in moderation by various Native American tribes as a condiment with other fresh greens. These plants have a tendency to absorb and concentrate selenium in their tissues from the soils in which they grow, and can be potentially very toxic if the roots or green parts of the plant are consumed. Indian paintbrush has similar health benefits to consuming garlic if only the flowers are eaten in small amounts and in moderation. The Ojibwe used a hairwash made from Indian paint brush to make their hair glossy and full bodied, and as a treatment for rheumatism. The high selenium content of this plant has to be the reason for its effectiveness for these purposes. Nevada Indian tribes used the plant to treat sexually transmitted diseases and to enhance the immune system.


Duration: Annual
Size: 6-16in.
Flower: Flowers in 3 inch spikes. 
Bloom Color: Red , Orange 
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May 
Native Habitat: Prairie, Plains, Meadows, Pastures, Savannahs, Woodlands edge, Opening, Roadsides 


Water Use: Medium 
Light Requirement: Sun 
Soil Moisture: Dry 
Soil Description: Sandy soils. Sandy Loam, Sandy, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay 
Conditions Comments: The roots of this plant will grow until they touch the roots of other plants, frequently grasses, penetrating these host roots to obtain a portion of their nutrients. Transplanting paintbrush may kill it. 
Attracts: Butterflies 
Larval Host: Buckeye butterfly. 


Propagation Material: Seeds 
Description: Seed in open, sunny sites for best results. Indian paintbrush seed may require a cold wet period in the winter to germinate. Plant the seed in the fall and rake it into loose topsoil to ensure good seed/soil contact. Seeds are exceptionally small (4 million seeds per pound), commercially available, depending on the previous year’s seed crop and can be expensive. The recommended seeding rate in 1/4 pound per acre. 

Seed Collection: Seeds are formed in capsules at the base of each flower. Seed capsules may be carefully collected by hand April – May when the capsules are dry and brown. 

Commercially Availability: yes

Maintenance: After flowering ceases, allow seeds to completely mature before mowing for reseeding or collecting to plant in a new area. Since C. indivisa is anannual, it is essential that this species be allowed to reseed for an abundant display for the following year.