Indian Paintbrush

Photo of Indian paintbrush flowers
Scientific Name
Castilleja coccinea
Orobanchaceae (broomrapes); formerly in the Scrophulariaceae (figworts; snapdragons)

Indian paintbrush has hairy, upright stems with flowers clustered at the top. The actual flowers are inconspicuous, tubular, greenish yellow, and nestled in the axils of the brilliantly colored bracts, which can be red, orange, or yellow. Blooms April–July. Basal leaves formed during first year, short, oblong, with rounded ends. Stem leaves alternate, stalkless, narrow to linear to 3-lobed with the central lobe wider and longer than the other 2. Both leaf types are very hairy.

Similar species: There are two other species of Castilleja in Missouri, both species of conservation concern:

  • Downy painted cup (C. sessiliflora) lacks the "paint," with only green bracts surrounding the flowers; its flowers protrude noticeably beyond the bracts. It's found only in our far northwestern counties.
  • Purple paintbrush (C. purpurea) has purple bracts instead of red and has clustered flowering stems. Rare and known only from a few locations in southwestern Missouri, it may not occur in our state anymore.
Other Common Names
Painted Cup
Indian Blanket

Height: usually about 8–15 inches; sometimes taller.

Where To Find
image of Indian Paintbrush Distribution Map

Statewide, except for northwestern Missouri and southeastern lowlands.

A plant of very dry and also wet situations. Occurs in fields, prairies, and glades; also in seepy areas, wet soil along streams, and moist thickets. Castilleja may penetrate the roots of other plants and act as a parasite, but it does not depend on this lifestyle for survival.

Botanists have been busy with the new information coming from molecular research. The traditional figwort family of penstemons, snapdragons, and others (Scrophulariaceae) has been "disintegrated" into several new, smaller families, and many former "scrophs" have been transferred into other, existing families. Indian paintbrush is now grouped with the broomrapes in the Orobanchaceae.

Native Americans used this plant for medicinal and other uses, but the name "Indian paintbrush" seems to come from fanciful or legendary ideas based on the brightly colored bracts. This plant is difficult to establish and grow in a garden.

Indian paintbrushes are partial root parasites, attaching their roots to the roots of nearby plants and tapping their nutrients. Most commonly parasitized are little bluestem, penstemons, and prairie blue-eyed grass.

Media Gallery
Similar Species

Where to See Species

Indian Trail Conservation Area covers 13,503 acres in northeast Dent County, between Salem and Steelville. The entrance to the area is off Highway 19.
This area was purchased in 2005. Native prairie is the featured habitat of this 340-acre area.
Daniel Boone Conservation Area is a place where the great pioneer himself might have felt at home. Boone in fact lived near here in his golden years.
Sentinel Conservation Area is in Polk County. Sentinel Conservation Area was acquired in part through the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act administered by the U.S.
Mount Vernon Prairie was purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 1974. It is managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation through a cooperative agreement.
About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!