Castilleja, si usted por favor

ladobeSeptember 11, 2011

I've noticed some of you have been posting about getting ready for "next years" lep plants. So I thought I'd toss a plant genus out here I don't believe I've seen get much attention on the forum, Castilleja (Indian Paintbrush and Prairie Fire are some of the common names).

They are native everywhere in North America, so could be a great new addition to any home garden. Some species of Castilleja are perennial herbs, some annual herbs - some species of both are hemiparasitic, some are not. Hemiparasitic means that they derive some of their nutrients from the roots of a host plant species, often grasses, but also other specific plants, and they will not generally do well without their host. The bract color can range widely through the reds, hot pinks, salmons, oranges, yellows, purples and whites. So they are all attractive plants for a garden, they don't get large or rambunctious or take over an area. Takes a little extra doing to be successful with those that are hemiparasitic, but they are still doable and worth the little extra effort. I've done some species from all four categories successfully in years past. But living along the wests Rocky Mountain slopes, high plateaus and deserts I mostly did perennial hemiparasitic species for the added benefit of their hosts. So I put rock screes in for them and their associated host plants in my gardens. My favorite was always Castilleja chromosa, a hemiparasitic species, simply because it is native everyplace west of the plains and I collected wild ovum and larvae of several species of leps on this species every year for decades. And I liked having the Artemisia dracunculus, filifolia or tridentata as their hosts in my garden too because they too are all also the main LFP's for many other lep species I commonly reared (and I had many other personal culinary and medicinal uses for them as well).

Lep wise probably the most eagerly sought to attract females for ovum and larvae would be the Arctiidae (Grammia nevadensis and olthona especially), and the many Nymphalidae that will use them as larval host plants - Euphydryas, Chlosyne (Thessalia, Charidryas), Precis (Junonia), etc. But they are also LFP's for many Geometridae, Noctuidae and Tortricidae. They and many of their host plants also attract many other species of leps as a nectar source. Hummingbirds and Sphingids are also attracted to Castilleja and are the key pollinators of some species.

Anyway, just a thought if you want to try something new that may attract new lep species to your gardens.


Castilleja chromosa

C. chromosa

C. chromosa associated with Artemisia dracunculus

C. chromosa associated with Artemisia filafolia

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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

Those are beautiful. I'll look into whether they would survive in Michigan. I bet they need lots of sun, which I don't have. I hope others try them in their yards. We do need to encourage much more use of natives in our residential landscapes. Thanks for all you do and I hope you continue to enjoy stopping in here. No need to respond to me.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 8:06AM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

Not in Michigan, unfortunately. But, I already have a plethora of Michigan natives that keep the birds, bugs and little rodent-types happy. I'm the rebel in my traditional suburb. Keep up the good work.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 8:11AM
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"Not in Michigan"... Huh?

Castilleja grow wild in EVERY state in the US and EVERY providence in Canada. In MI at least C. coccinea and C. septentrionalis (pallida) are native, are both perennial, both hemiparasitic and are both hardy in zones 4-8. You won't find them growing wild in the vacant lot on the corner though, these are mountainous species. But if you will establish and provide the right habitat (in general a well drained medium soil, medium moisture, and as much sun as possible), any Castilleja species hardy in your zone is possible, not just the native species. So you don't need to give up on them because you live in MI. ;)

BTW, the perennials start best in a garden from established seedlings or transplants (not from seeds), and even though perennials they will probably need a second planting the following year to get them established to where the seeds they produce do sustain them every year, maybe even three years.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 2:16PM
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butterflymomok(7a NE OK)

Good information, Larry. The Indian Paintbrush or Castilleja indivisa grows all over this area. In fact, as our housing addition was being built, there were patches growing on the vacant lots. Not anymore. :(

I haven't tried growing this in the garden as it is hard to get established. But, I love to drive around in the spring and enjoy the blooms. It even blooms all along the Turner Turnpike which runs from OKC to Tulsa. Wildflower seeds were broadcast all along this road, and they have thrived. In May, it is quite a sight to see.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 2:50PM
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Hi Sandy,

Yep, Castelleja establishes well in disturbed areas even from seed eventually, probably because the soil is not compact and the seedlings can send roots farther and deeper faster to find host roots to parasitize. Unfortunately when the soil compacts again they often disappear if they or their hosts are not firmly established.

One of my favorite very early season jaunts for a day in the frozen north when I didn't have the time to travel to warmer climates was to head for specific known spots where I knew Castilleja, Xylorhiza and Stephanomeria would already be up, often peeking through snow cover. All three would already have various species of larva on them that had come out of winter hibernation to eagerly munch away even though it was still quite cold and often with wind driven snow flying horizontally. Collecting wild larva in a snow suit with gloves and a ski mask must have looked like an invasion from another world if anybody else chanced by. LOL

A couple of my favorite spots for day trips was South Willow Canyon on the west desert of northern Utah, and the Bulldog Pass area in extreme SW Utah. They are very different places when visited in summer and in winter as their temp ranges can swing over 150 degree's from their normal low winter to high summer. Thought you might enjoy pictures of those areas.


South Willow


    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 5:44PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

That scenery is breath taking, Larry!

I've always admired Castilleja in pictures and have intended to sow some seed, but never got around to it. Your thread has prompted me to do it! Prairie Moon carries C. coccinea, which is the kind that's supposed to grow in MS, so I'll be ordering some seeds from them or somebody else that carries it, along with some other seeds that I'd like to try, of course!
Castilleja is probably a buckeye host plant, other than Agalinis, that my buckeyes would lay eggs on. I've tried many others - plantain, snapdragons, snapdragon vine, etc. - and they wouldn't use them. My "meadows" have native grasses growing on them that the plants can use. Agalinis, as with many members of the snapdragon family, is a hemiparasite, also, and it thrives with the grasses.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 7:08PM
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butterflymomok(7a NE OK)

Absolutely beautiful, Larry. There are so many incredible places to explore. You are fortunate to have been able to see so much!

Sherry, good luck on your planting. If I had the space you do, I wouldn't hesitate to add these. Can't wait until you post photos of the meadow in bloom.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 7:45PM
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I tried and failed growing castilleja from seed. I got a few to germinate but not live long enough to bloom. Liatris was the only thing I had handy that I could find listed as a host to grow with it but it didn't work for me. I have a pretty good patch of penstemon now. Maybe that would work. I may try again.

Missherry - I think there are two different kinds of narrow leaf plantain that are common in my area. I don't know which one I have in my yard but I had to stop my mower and pick a couple dozen Buckeye cats off the seed heads one year because I didn't want to mow them and I could see them everywhere. I left a patch unmowed for awhile. We have some broad leaf plantain in our yard too and I've never found them on that.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 10:33PM
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Well, it looks like some of you want to try Castilleja. Good for you. I'm no Castilleja expert, but maybe I can give you a few hints from my trial and error approach to getting Castilleja established in my gardens. Keep in mind that I put in screes for many of my plantings because the base soil where I lived in the north was clay. In my case I used variuos species of Artemisia and short prarie grasses and sedges as hosts for the Castilleja. They also did well in with my scree full of Populus tremuloides.

My best and fastest came from transplanting wild collected established but young Castilleja that were cut into an established hosts root system. Not as fast because of set back or shock to both was transplanting established plants of Castilleja and host at the same using the same method. Most of mine where done in the spring to early summer, and they would be well established the nest spring. If you have to work from seeds only and have established hosts, cut into the hosts roots and sow the seeds in the cuts. IOW, by cutting into the hosts root system you damage some to give the Castilleja a faster start at parasitizing them. If from seed only for both Castilleja and host, sow them together and rake into a well drained soil in full sun areas that will also be able to be kept wet in the spring.

If you want to do it from seed this year, hubba hubba on getting the seeds in hand. Fall to late fall is the time to sow them into established hosts. If seed only for both you can wait for next spring/summer, but those that do germinate won't until that fall so you'll probably loose another year or two getting them established.

HTH,and good luck to all of you if you try.

Your local colony may use the Castilleja, but also may not as they are not naturally exposed to it much. Would be fun to see though.

Sandy, I was very lucky to see so many places. Sure wish I had access to all the pictures I took in my lifetime to share. As it is I have to garner most of them. I could do that alot for the places I've been and whats there, but since most here won't every go beyond their home gardens there's no need.


    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 1:53AM
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onafixedincome(z8-9 CA)

I love Castilleja, but finding it around here is iffy at best (N. Central CA). Not quite sure why; we have a reasonable if not extensive supply of buckbrush and other artemisia-type hosts around (and a lot more variety than that, besides)--but not a lot of paintbrush.

LOVE your pics always, ladobe!

    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 7:36AM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

Well, I ordered some from Everwilde Farms - 'never ordered from them before. I've had success starting Agalinis in a "meadow" by just throwing out the TINY seeds I gathered from roadside stands. Hopefully, Castelleja will do as well.
I'll just throw out some and cut into the top of the roots of the grasses and putting some seeds there, too, Larry.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 11:35AM
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Hi Edna,
As you know I lived near where you do 40 something years ago. While I'm sure a lot has changed with extensive habitat loss, there was lots of Castilleja all around the BA back then. Heck I even remember some growing in People's Park when I was going to UCB in the 60's. Anyway, a long list of species and many of their subspecies could be found there in the areas diverse habitats. With urban sprawl I'd look in the "hills" and along the coast in undeveloped areas. Just stay clear of the known E. e. bayensis sites even if they are suppose to only still exist in SC County now. IOW, their historic sites N, E and S of the peninsula are all still listed as "possible".
BTW, none of these pictures are mine... just public domain found on the net.

Sounds good... sure hope they take hold for you and give you yet another option to attract new species, and feed some of your old ones. However I would rake the "just tossed" seeds in as well as sowing as many as you can stand to do in host roots. They are quite small so if left on the surface are easily gathered up by a host of seed eaters from small Formicidae up.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 8:12PM
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