Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)

It may come to some as a surprise that Ohio is home to its very own species of Indian paintbrush.  The vividly colored flowers of the Castilleja genus are much better known out west where just about all of North America's 100+ species occur while just a handful of them occur east of the Mississippi.  Ohio's sole species is the scarlet indian paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), which also goes by the common name of painted-cup.

Fallow meadow with a scattering of scarlet indian paintbrush

I couldn't help but notice this stupendous display along a southern Ohio road the other day as I was out botanizing. There's some plants that require tedious examination while squinting through a hand lens to identify and there are those you can instantly ID going 60 miles an hour down the road: these are the latter.

Scarlet Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)

The fallow meadow had several hundred plants scattered about in perfect peak bloom.  Apart from the obvious paintbrush, several other species of flowers we're blooming including: yellow star grass (Hypoxis hirsuta), white blue-eyed grass (Sisrynchium albidum), arrow-leaved violet (Viola sagittata), and lyre-leaved sage (Salvia lyrata). It certainly adds an unmistakable color to the ever-advancing spring landscape, which contrasts perfectly against the surrounding green vegetation.

Dense patch of the scarlet indian paintbrush

Indian paintbrush isn't all that uncommon in the cedar barrens, hanging prairies, and meadows of Adams county but this demonstration is the best I've yet to see.  The owner's neighbor came over while I was photographing and explained he'd seen the property go through several owners over the decades and they all appreciated the paintbrush's presence and didn't mow until well after it had set to seed.  In a world of neatly trimmed and manicured lawns, it's a welcome thing to hear of someone sparing their yard the blade in an attempt to preserve some natural beauty.

Scarlet Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)

Taking a closer look at an individual plant you can begin to see the true workings of the flowers themselves.  The red petals you see aren't in actuality petals at all.  They are something called foliaceous bracts which are just colored ends of its leaves (much like your Christmas time poinsettias) and are used to help better attract pollinators. The actual flowers and reproductive parts are the little green protuberances in-between the vibrant scarlet bracts.

Scarlet Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)

Being such an intense shade of red it's only natural these late-spring wildflowers would be quite the hit with the recently-returned ruby-throated hummingbirds.  It's certainly something I would call a win-win in nature when you can have both these and hummingbirds around at the same time!  I'm very thankful the owners had and continue to have the foresight to allow these wondrous plants to grow and thrive in the side and backyard.  I only hope to see this already incredible patch continue to grow in size in the years to come as I drive by on my way to see all my other favorite southern botanical treasures of early May.

1 comment:

  1. Glorious! Just glorious! How lucky you are to come upon a scene like this. Thanks for showing it to us.