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  There are, according to Intermountain Flora, about 200 species of Castilleja (Paintbrush); most grow in western North America, several in eastern North America and Asia, and about fifteen in Central and South America.

    Castilleja comes in many colors and often these colors represent distinct species.  But many Paintbrush hybridize and therefore precise species identification on the basis of color can be problematic.

   Color poses another problem: What we admire as the attractive Castilleja flowers, are actually leaf-like parts, the bracts and sepals.  The flower petals themselves are fused in a long, narrow tube that is often greenish-yellow.  The stigma (visible in several pictures below) usually protrudes from the floral tube.      

    Some species of Paintbrush grow singly, others scattered, others in large, very attractive patches, and others in all three manners.     

    Paintbrush is hemiparasitic (partially parasitic), i.e.,  if Paintbrush roots encounter roots of other plants they can derive nourishment from these roots.   This at least partially explains why several species of Castilleja, especially Castilleja chromosa, commonly begin growing under taller plants such as Sagebrush.  Perhaps they also profit from the shade.

    Because of its parasitic nature (and other characteristics brought out by genetic research), the Castilleja genus is placed in Orobanchaceae, not Scrophulariaceae, by most botanical authorities.

     Paintbrush of the same species may consistently or inconsistently have hairy or smooth, sticky or not sticky stems; lower leaves may be noticeably red and three-veined or not;  bracts may, on their outside top edges, be deeply or shallowly cut into narrow or wider division or not cut at all.  Intermountain Flora indicates: "The species of Castilleja are often difficult to distinguish because of overlapping variation in nearly every character."   

     Despite these identification difficulties, one can, with patience and practice, learn the various Castilleja species pictured on this web site.   With little effort at all, one quickly learns to appreciate their beauty.

     The genus name, "Castilleja", honors Domingo Castillejo (1744-1793), Spanish botanist and Professor of Botany in Cadiz, Spain.  In the late 1770s Jose Celestino Mutis (who was born in Cadiz, Spain but spent most of his life in Columbia) named a new Columbian genus "Castilleja" to honor his countryman.  He sent the new species and name to Linnaeus' son who published the information in Supplementum Plantarum in 1781.  (More biographical information about Castillejo.) 

Castilleja haydenii
Castilleja haydenii (Paintbrush)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Alpine. Tundra. Summer.
Colorado Trail above Hillside Drive, August 4, 2014.

Castilleja haydenii
Castilleja haydenii (Hayden's Paintbrush)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Alpine. Tundra. Summer.
Lizard Head Trail, August 18, 2005.

Castilleja haydenii and Castilleja rhexiifolia (see bottom of this page) can be difficult to distinguish from each other, but several characteristics help to separate them:  

C. haydenii is a very short alpine tundra plant (rarely subalpine) growing 2-5 inches tall; C. rhexiifolia grows in the high subalpine (and commonly in the lower alpine) to nearly two feet tall and grows to 5-10 inches on alpine tundra. 

C. haydenii often has 3-5 shallow cuts in its upper leaves and bract tips; C. rhexiifolia has fewer, more shallow cuts.

C. haydenii's bracts are most often very light pink; those of C. rhexiifolia are a hot, iridescent rose-pink. 

The height and color are quite variable in C. rhexiifolia which hybridizes with C. miniata at its lower elevation range and with C. septentrionalis (and perhaps C. occidentalis) at its upper elevation range. 

C. rhexiifolia is far more common than C. haydenii in the Four Corners mountainous areas and throughout the mountain West where it ranges from north-central New Mexico to Montana to Washington, overlapping the range of C. haydenii which occurs just in north-central New Mexico, southern Colorado, and the very southeast corner of Utah.

I think genetic analysis of C. haydenii and C. rhexifolia would show that they hybridize.

Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden was the leader of the widely acclaimed "Hayden Survey", the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, 1867-1879.  (More biographical information about Hayden.)

Castilleja haydenii

Castilleja haydenii  (Hayden's Paintbrush)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Alpine. Tundra. Summer.
Lizard Head Trail, August 18, 2005.

Castilleja haydenii

Castilleja haydenii

Castilleja haydenii  (Hayden's Paintbrush)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Alpine. Tundra. Summer.
Sharkstooth Trail, July 14, 2006 and June 15, 2012.

Bracts of C. haydenii typically have one or two narrow, linear lobes to the sides of a broad central lobe.

Castilleja haydenii
Castilleja haydenii  (Hayden's Paintbrush)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Alpine. Tundra. Summer.
Kennebec Pass, July 18, 2006.

Castilleja rhexiifolia

Castilleja rhexifolia

Castilleja rhexifolia

Castilleja rhexiifolia

Castilleja rhexiifolia (Rose Paintbrush)
Orobanchaceae (Broomrape Family)

Subalpine, alpine. Meadows. Summer.
Madden Peak, June 23, 2004; Stony Pass, July 21, 2011; Lake Hope, August 11, 2014.

Castilleja rhexiifolia bract colors are most often hot rose-pink, but they range from subtle magentas to flaming rose to hot iridescent pink and when they hybridize with Castilleja septentrionalis (Syn. C. sulphurea) they also create marvelous blends of soft yellows and purple.  For pure outright amazing color, this Paintbrush is hard to surpass.

Click to see the marvelous hybrids of C. rhexiifolia. 

C. rhexiifolia plants with color variations can often be found very close to one another.  But to see these variations you will have to hike to meadows in the subalpine and alpine zones where Castilleja rhexiifolia joins buttercups, a number of species of sunflowers, bistorts, King's Crown, and many more flowers in one of the finest of all wildflower displays.

Castilleja rhexiifolia has a long blooming time, from just after snow melt in June to September.  It grows to two feet tall but typically is twelve inches, except on alpine tundra where it may be no more than five inches.

Lower leaves are often red-tinted and have three prominent veins.  Upper colored bracts are often very shallowly cut into three with the outer two divisions quite small.

As indicated above, Castilleja rhexiifolia with its red hues hybridizes with the soft yellow hues of Castilleja septentrionalis (Syn. C. sulphurea) to produce a wide variety of red/yellow/purple bract colorings.  At its lower limits in high mountain altitudes, C. rhexiifolia also hybridizes with C. miniata.  The resulting bracts often have the wild colors of the former and the larger, more deeply cut bracts of the latter.

In the lower two photographs at left you can see a number of Castilleja rhexifolia characteristics: bract color in different plants can vary, hairiness and leaf venation are prominent, and the calyx surrounding the minute green tubular flower is the same color as the bracts.

"Rhexifolia" is Greek for "broken foliage" and refers to Castilleja rhexiifolia's strongly veined leaves and their resemblance to the veins of the eastern U.S. genus, Rhexia.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Castilleja haydenii

Range map for Castilleja rhexiifolia