50 Natives: Idaho: Castilleja chromosa – Desert Indian Paintbrush

The flowers of Indian paintbrush are edible and sweet, and were consumed in moderation by various American Indian tribes as a condiment with other fresh greens. These plants have a tendency to absorb and concentrate Selenium in their tissues from the soils in which they grow, and can be potentially very toxic if the roots or green parts of the plant are consumed.

It’s a good choice for Rock gardens, hummingbird and butterfly gardens and naturalized desertscapes. It’s hemi parasitic – meaning that it needs a parasite plant and relies on the host for water.   You must plant it in the rooting zone of a companion plant like sagebrush.

Castilleja chromosa - Desert Indian Paintbrush

1. Desert Paintbrush, 2. Desert paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa), 3. Desert Paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa), 4. Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa), Arches National Park, Utah

According to Wikipedia, “The flowers of Indian paintbrush are edible and sweet, and were consumed in moderation by various American Indian tribes as a condiment with other fresh greens.”  Who knew the Indians had a gourmet streak!  “These plants have a tendency to absorb and concentrate Selenium in their tissues from the soils in which they grow, and can be potentially very toxic if the roots or green parts of the plant are consumed.”

You can buy Indian Paintbrush from Rugged Country Plants and they sell it already with a host plant of a native grass or perennial.

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rochelle greayer

Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.
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1 Comment

  1. Jessica on May 24, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Although Castilleja is very beautiful it is extremely hard to grow and does not just rely on sage brush but on several Pacific Northwest native grasses. This post was a bit misinformed and misleading. If you do get the mix right it can take three years before they germinate.
    There is nothing like seeing it bloom in the deset though!

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