Pages Navigation Menu

Indian Paintbrush: Cool Culture and Creepy Ecology

Indian Paintbrush: Cool Culture and Creepy Ecology
Share

Creative Commons License


Lupines and Paintbrush by Shari Maria Silverman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.Indian paintbrush among lupines on Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington: August 2011. Indian paintbrush among Lupines on Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington: August 2011.

I love Indian paintbrush. It’s one of the first plants my parents taught me during childhood hikes. It grows everywhere. When you go somewhere new, it’s there to greet you, like an old friend making you feel at home. This post takes links you to my favorite Indian paintbrush legend, its beautiful and somewhat creepy natural history, and a sample of the many cultural uses for the plant.

Indian Paintbrush Story

Creative Commons License


Red and Yellow Indian Paintbrush by Shari Maria Silverman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.Indian paintbrush comes in all colors, even on a single plant like this one on Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington Indian Paintbrush comes in all colors, even on a single plant like this one on Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington

One of my favorite stories is about how Indian paintbrush came to be. It’s a beautiful story about following your path and everything’s interconnectedness. Sunsets are heavily involved. Therefore, it is awesome. I declare it so.

I first heard it on Reading Rainbow in “The Legend of Indian Paintbrush” episode. It remains my favorite Indian paintbrush story to hear. It was the reading of the story “retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola”, and is read by Harold Littlebird. The actual reading occurs from around 5 minutes through 10 minutes, 15 seconds. I like the whole recording, but that might be the anthropologist in me. Reading Rainbow was a kid’s show, just a head’s up.

Indian Paintbrush: the Basics

Creative Commons License


Indian Paintbrush on Mount St. Helens Trail by Shari Maria Silverman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.Indian paintbrush grows in a variety of environments. It is even one of the few plants growing on the pumice and ash-covered ridgetops like this one on Johnson Ridge, Mount St. Helens, Washington: September 2012 Indian paintbrush grows in a variety of environments. It is even one of the few plants growing on the pumice and ash-covered ridgetops like this one on Johnson Ridge, Mount St. Helens, Washington: September 2012

Indian paintbrush’s genus name is Castilleja. There are a gaggle of species (about 200). They live throughout the planet (northern Asia, throughout the west in the Americas [Alaska through the Andes]) (Wikipedia 2013:Castilleja). That’s probably why they pop up everywhere: different soils, different elevations, different landscapes. It also explains the variety of colors, colors of the sunset.

Indian Paintbrush Geology and Soils

Creative Commons License


Indian Paintbrush Newberry Lava Forest by Shari Maria Silverman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.Indian paintbrush grows in a wide variety of places, including on this 6000 year-old lava flow at Newberry Volcanic National Monument in central, southern Oregon. July 2011 Indian paintbrush grows in a wide variety of places, including on this 6000 year-old lava flow at Newberry Volcanic National Monument in central, southern Oregon. July 2011

Indian paintbrush, as mentioned earlier, grows in a variety of areas: clays, loams, gravels, sands. It’s adapted to a wide variety of environments (Adler 2002; Drollinger 2002; Sclafani 2006; St. John and Ogle 2009; Wikipedia 2013). It can even grow in serpentine, which apparently is a very rare feat. It can also handle high magnesium, low calcium, and lots of chromium and nickel (Cichuneic 2002). The soils and depth of roots do depend on species variety, however. So I guess you can say that’s cheating. I don’t judge (at least in this respect).

Indian Paintbrush’s Creepy Yet Cool Ecology

Creative Commons License


Indian Paintbrush Parasite to Lupine by Shari Maria Silverman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.Indian paintbrush often appears with other plants to steal their nutrients and water. This is probably the case with these paintbrush in this lupine field on Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington: August 2011. Indian paintbrush often appears with other plants to steal their nutrients and water. This is probably the case with these paintbrush in this Lupine field on Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington: August 2011.

Well, this is the one section that I was sorry I learned about in my scoping. That’s the danger of investigating something you love, however. I guess that is an advantage of unconditional, or actually blind, love. The biological world is cruel and a little “hair-on-the-back-of-neck” raising.

Several Indian paintbrush species, are, apparently, hemi-parasitic. When growing in an area of minimal nutritional resources, they extend their roots into nearby plant root systems. But it’s only a PARTIAL root parasite (hence the hemi). Ugh. I mean that in a non-judgmental way. I really wish I hadn’t read that, but I did, in multiple places (e.g. Adler 2002; Everwilds Farm Catalog 2006-2014; Prairie Moon Nursery 2005-2014; Mathews 2003:213; Sclafani 2006; St. John and Ogle:2009).

In the Pacific Northwest, Indian paintbrush often appears in lupine fields. Lupines have some sort of symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Lupines increase the paintbrushes’ pollen output, growth, and reproduction. They even give them protection against predatory animals by sharing the toxic alkaloid lupinine (Switek 2011). It should be noted, however, that most parasited plants seem to suffer a bit from the experience of having their nutrients and water stolen from them, eh?

Creative Commons License


Red Bunch Indian Paintbrush by Shari Maria Silverman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.Hummingbirds are attracted to Indian Paintbrush's bright red color, like this bunch at Newberry Crater National Monument's Lava Forest. July 2011. Hummingbirds are attracted to Indian paintbrush’s bright red color, like this bunch at Newberry Crater National Monument’s Lava Forest. July 2011.

On a different, more beautiful note, some researchers believe that some species of Indian paintbrush in the Rocky Mountains (Castilleja miniata) may have evolved together. Apparently, hummingbirds have no sense of smell, are attracted to red colors, and need huge quantities of sweet nectar. Castilleja miniata has large amounts of sweet nectar, is red, and emits no odor. It also has large, narrow tubes that are not easily damaged by hummingbirds’ long bills (Kershaw et al. 1998:198).

Indian Paintbrush’s Cultural Uses

Creative Commons License


John Day Indian Paintbrush by Shari Maria Silverman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.Indian paintbrush grows everywhere, even in this tight stream canyon in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in north central Oregon. No wonder people have so many uses for it, eh? July 2011. Indian paintbrush grows everywhere, even in this tight stream canyon in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in north central Oregon. No wonder people have so many uses for it, eh? July 2011.

Indian paintbrush has long been put to use by peoples of the western Americas. The state of Wyoming adopted Indian paintbrush as its state flower on January 31, 1917 (Cichuneic 2002). But Indian paintbrush’s cultural uses go beyond that. Apparently, the Chippewa use it to treat rheumatism and improve hair gloss (due to its high selenium content, where selenium levels are high [Drollinger 2002]). Navajo use it to soothe ailing stomachs (Dunmire and Tierney 1997:44). Ancestral Pueblo Indians and, in some cases, more recently, Hopi, have mixed Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja linearifolia) roots with white clay and juniper bark to create reddish-orange organic paint (Dunmire and Tierney 1997:98). On the Pacific Northwest coast of North America, it was used for medicines, food, and decoration (University of Michigan ethnographic herb study search results).

Creative Commons License


Magenta Indian Paintbrush by Shari Maria Silverman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.Indian paintbrush comes in a variety of colors of the rainbow, not just red and yellow, but also magenta like this bunch here on Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington. August 2011. Indian paintbrush comes in a variety of colors of the rainbow, not just red and yellow, but also magenta like this bunch here on Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington. August 2011.

References

Adler, Lynn S.
2002 Host Effects on Herbevory and Pollination in a Hemiparasitic Plant. Ecology (83)10:2700-2710. Ecological Society of America. Electronic document, http://people.umass.edu/lsadler/adlersite/adler/Ecology02.pdf, accessed April 13, 2014.

Cichuneic, Bo Jacob
2002 Indian Paintbrush: Castilleja, AGRO/HORT 100G Spring 2002, NMSU: Low Water-Use Landscape Plants for the Southwest. New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. Electronic Document, http://aces.nmsu.edu/pes/lowwaterplants/indian-paintbrush.html, accessed April 13, 2014.

Drollinger, Dayna
2002 Indian Paintbrush: Castilleja, AGRO/HORT 100G Spring 2002, NMSU: Low Water-Use Landscape Plants for the Southwest. New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. Electronic Document, http://aces.nmsu.edu/pes/lowwaterplants/indian-paintbrush.html, accessed April 13, 2014.

Dunmire, William W., and Gail D. Tierney
1997 Wild Plants and Native Peoples of the Four Corners. Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Everwilds Farm
2006-2014 Castilleja integra (Wholeleaf Indian Paintbrush) Wildflower Seeds. Electronic document, http://www.everwilde.com/store/Wholeleaf-Indian-Paintbrush-Wildflower-Seeds.html, accessed April 13, 2014. By the way, according to their website, their seeds are non-GMO and organic. I’ll have to remember that one.

Kershaw, Linda, Andy MacKinnon, and Jim Pojar
1998 Plants of the Rocky Mountains. Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton, Alberta.

Mathews, Daniel
2003 Rocky Mountain Natural History. Raven Press, Portland, Oregon.

Prairie Moon Nursery
2005-2014 Prairie Moon Nursery::Seeds::Castilleja coocinea (Indian Paintbrush). Electronic document, https://www.prairiemoon.com/seeds/wildflowers-forbs/castilleja-coccinea-indian-paintbrush.html, accessed April 13, 2014.

Sclafani, Christie J.
2006 Castilleja cinerea. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [2014, April 13]. Electronic document, http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/forb/cascin/all.html, accessed April 13, 2014.

St. John, L. and D.G. Ogle.
2009 Plant Guide for Christ’s Indian paintbrush (Castilleja christii). USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Plant Materials Center, Aberdeen, ID. Electronic Resource, http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_PLANTMATERIALS/publications/idpmcpg9315.pdf, accessed April 13, 2014.

Switek, Tracey
2011 Indian Paintbrush – A Pretty Parasite. The Olive Tree (posted online on July 27, 2011). Electronic document, http://oleaeuropea.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/indian-paintbrush-a-pretty-parasite/, accessed April 13, 2014.

Wikipedia
2013 Castilleja. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Last updated August 13, 2013. Electronic resource, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castilleja, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., accessed April 13, 2014.

Creative Commons License
Indian Paintbrush: Cool Culture and Creepy Ecology by Shari Maria Silverman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Print pagePDF pageEmail page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Howdy! Share your thoughts!

%d bloggers like this: