Desert Paintbrush

Common Names:
Desert Paintbrush
Scientific name:
Castilleja chromosa
Subspecies | Variants:
C. foliolosa, C. linariifolia, C. applegatei var. martinii
Elevation range:
2,000-9,000 ft.
Flowering Months:
April, May, June, July, August
Height | Length:
6-18 in.
Life Cycle | Lifeform:
State Occurrences:
Desert region:
Mojave, Sonoran

Desert Paintbrush is hemiparasitic on the roots of grasses and bushes and is in the Broomrape family. Paintbrush is a generalist hemiparasite, so it will use a variety of host plants but does tend to prefer some such as sagebrush. It draws nutrients and water from the host plant. In fact, it can photosynthesize and survive without a host plant, but usually does not do very well. It is not an aggressive parasite and does not usually kill the host plant, but can give other plants a competitive advantage. You will usually see them protruding through their host plants or growing from the perimeter of the host. As with many types of desert plants, Desert Paintbrush can concentrate selenium derived from desert alkaline soil types and can be potentially very dangerous if the green plant parts of roots are eaten. However, some Native Americans consumed the flowers.

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Desert Paintbrush in the desert

Castilleja chromosa has bright red bracts with a light covering of white hairs and green tube-shaped flowers. Pipes Canyon, CA | April 2006   

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Desert Paintbrush in the desert

Castilleja chromosa's red color attracts hummingbirds, but is also pollinated by native bees, bumble bees and butterflies. Owl Canyon, CA | April 2014    

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Desert Paintbrush in the desert

Mature fruit capsule of Castilleja chromosa is visible at right. Joshua Tree National Park | March 2011   

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Desert Paintbrush in the desert

Castilleja chromosa is a hemiparasite which meas it obtains some source of nutrients from a host plant (usually a shrub with deep roots) and yet it still is photosynthetic. This parasitism does not normally kill the host, but may retard growth. Pipes Canyon, CA | March 26, 2005   

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Desert Paintbrush in the desert

Castilleja chromosa green to reddish-purple leaves with bristly hairs. The leaves are lanceolate to linear shaped with 3-5 lobes. This plant is often found growing in rock crevices. Pipes Canyon, CA | March 2005