— Eliza Habegger, Land Bank Land Steward
Red wildflowers aren’t common in the Pacific Northwest. That’s one reason to appreciate Harsh Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida), just now coming into bloom in the San Juan Islands.
Harsh Indian Paintbrush is a striking plant, its flowering stalks seemingly dipped in shades of orange and red. Rufous hummingbirds, returning from winter habitat in Mexico, take note. The bright colors of paintbrush attract and reward them with a sip of nectar.
One can find Harsh Indian Paintbrush in the wild in the San Juans, but not where deer abound. Look for it on steep rocky shores that the deer can’t reach. Where deer are absent or less common, it might be seen in a dry native meadow or forest opening. Paintbrush can also be easily grown in a pot on a sunny deck (as shown in these photos)
All species of paintbrush have a lifestyle that’s unusual in the plant world: they are partial parasites of other plants. Specially adapted paintbrush roots attach to the roots of neighboring species, robbing them of water and nutrients. If planting paintbrush at home, be sure to give it a suitable companion!
Harsh Indian Paintbrush is one of many local, native plants now being propagated at the Salish Seeds Project nursery, and available for purchase at public plant sale events this September.