• Chante McCoy

Indian Paintbrush

If you’re into wild flowers, you’re going to love the many colors and varieties of Indian Paintbrush found high in Utah’s mountains, as well as on its desert floors.

Of the genus Castilleja, the flower clusters of this native perennial resemble ragged paintbrushes dipped in reds, pinks, oranges, and even white. Over 200 species are found in North and South America and Asia. The 14 Utah varieties include C. chromosa, C. exilis, C. linariifolia, C. miniata, C. applegatei, and C. rhexifolia that are commonly growing along the Wasatch Front.

Castilleja are difficult to cultivate from seed because they are hemiparasitic to the extent that they draw off water and nutrients from a host plant’s roots. This relationship with other plants allows it to survive in dry climates and extend its range. For propagation, they rely on hummingbirds and long-tongued insects for pollination.

Apparently, the blossoms are edible in small quantities and can be added to salad, adding a range of bitter to sweet. (If you’re lost in the woods, one’s palette gets less fickle, eh?) On account of the high selenium content, don’t eat the toxic leaves or roots. Other uses include boiling these bits for hair wash and to treat rheumatism. Or, if you have your eye on a special someone, the flowers can be used as a love charm.

Personally, I’m just happy to photograph them and leave them be.

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