scarlet Indian paintbrush

(Castilleja coccinea)

Conservation Status
scarlet Indian paintbrush (f. coccinea)
  IUCN Red List

not listed


NNR - Unranked

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

FACU - Facultative upland


FAC - Facultative

  Northcentral & Northeast

FAC - Facultative


Scarlet Indian paintbrush is a 5 to 24 tall, erect, annual or biennial, hemiparasitic forb that rises on usually a single stem from a taproot rhizome caudex.

In the first year it develops a rosette of basal leaves. In the second year it sends up flowering stems. The stems are ascending to erect, slender, usually unbranched, and covered with short, fine hairs.

Basal leaves are inversely lance-shaped to egg-shaped, unlobed, up to 3¼ long, and up to ¾ wide. They are often present at flowering.

Stem leaves are variable in form, linear to lance-shaped, 1¼ to 3¼ long, and up to wide. Some leaves are cleft with 3 to 5 linear lobes, the central lobe longer and broader than the lateral lobes. Some leaves are unlobed. The upper surface is hairy. The lower surface is hairy along the veins. The margins are untoothed.

The inflorescence is a dense, red, 1½ to 2 long spike at the end of the stem. When in fruit the spike is 4 to 8 long.

Each flower is subtended by a large leaf-like bract. The bract is lance-shaped, usually deeply 3-lobed, occasionally 5-lobed. It is usually either green at the base and scarlet at the tip or almost entirely scarlet. Occasionally the bracts are yellow. The calyx is to 1 long and divided into 2 rounded lobes. It is colored like the bracts. The corolla is inconspicuous, consisting of 5 petals fused for their entire length into a greenish-yellow tube that is 13 16 to 11 16 long, slightly longer than the calyx. They are usually at least partially concealed by the colorful bracts.

The fruit is an asymmetrical, egg-shaped, long capsule containing numerous seeds.




5 to 24


Flower Color


Greenish-yellow with scarlet or yellow bracts


Similar Species




Wet to dry. Prairies, meadows.




May to August




Populations of scarlet Indian paintbrush in the upper Midwest show a high degree of bract polymorphism. The bract color in one population may be predominantly scarlet while in a nearby population the bract color is predominantly yellow. A recent study (Ki, et al., 2019) showed that where pollinators were abundant, the scarlet morph outproduced the yellow morph. Where pollinators were scarce, the yellow morph outproduced the scarlet morph. Plants with yellow bracts have been named Castilleja coccinea f. lutescens, while those with scarlet bracts have been named Castilleja coccinea f. coccinea.




Plants in the genus Castilleja are hemiparasitic. They obtain water and mineral nutrients from the roots of grasses and forbs, but are also photosynthetic, producing chlorophyll. Though it can survive on its own, it has a forty-fold increase in growth when it parasitizes the roots of other plants.


Pests and Diseases






Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 28, 29, 30.









  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Asteranae  


Lamiales (mints, plantains, olives, and allies)  


Orobanchaceae (broomrape)  
  Tribe Pedicularideae  
  Genus Castilleja (paintbrushes)  

Subordinate Taxa






Castilleja ludoviciana


Common Names


Indian paintbrush

painted cup


painted-cup paintbrush

scarlet Indian paintbrush

scarlet Indian-paintbrush

scarlet paintbrush

scarlet painted-cup











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    scarlet Indian paintbrush (f. coccinea)      


    scarlet Indian paintbrush (f. coccinea)   scarlet Indian paintbrush (f. coccinea)  


    scarlet Indian paintbrush (f. coccinea)   scarlet Indian paintbrush (f. coccinea)  

Yellow morph plant

    scarlet Indian paintbrush (lutescens)   scarlet Indian paintbrush (lutescens)  

Yellow morph inflorescence

    scarlet Indian paintbrush (lutescens)      



  Castilleja coccinea (Indian Paintbrush)
Allen Chartier
  Castilleja coccinea (Indian Paintbrush)  



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Other Videos
  Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)

Uploaded on May 24, 2010 May 17. Indian Paintbrush provides that rare red color in a prairie but can be difficult from seed - it needs a host plant. We have had success w/ drier prairie grasses: Little Blustem, Side-oats Grama, Hairy Grama, Blue Grama, June Grass or a drier Sedge (Carex).

  The Castilleja Code
College First Science First

Published on Aug 31, 2012

A College First 2012 research project presentation at the Chicago Botanic Garden

by Danya Springer, Urban Prep Academy.

Mentors: Anna Braum, Plant Science and Conservation; Evan Eiffler, REU Intern

Video services by John Sanner




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  Sandra Shirek

Location: Chippewa National Forest (Woodtick Trail)







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