The bright red-orange and scarlet blooms of the scarlet paintbrush (Castilleja mineata, also called great red paintbrush, giant red paintbrush, and Indian paintbrush) are a common sight in the grasslands of Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument from about May through September. Paintbrushes are related to the garden snapdragon, and like snapdragons, their colorful “petals” are really bracts, or modified leaves. The actual flowers are much smaller, and in paintbrushes, fused into a long, greenish-yellow tube.
There are over 200 species of Castilleja in North America, and they frequently hybridize, making species identification difficult. Paintbrush species may have red, orange, pink, yellow, white, or purple bracts.
The genus is named for Domingo Castillejo (1744-1793), a Spanish botanist and Professor of Botany in Cadiz, Spain. In the late 1770s, Spanish-Columbian scientist Jose Celestino Mutis named a new genus “Castilleja” to honor his countryman. The common name comes from the plant’s resemblance to a paint-tipped brush.
Â -Melissa Barton
Photo Credit: Melissa Barton