Species Spotlight: Woolly Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja foliolosa)

April 11, 2018 Posted by: McKenna Pace
Last year’s mighty rainy season brought with it an onslaught of spring blooms at Cabrillo National Monument. Unfortunately, this year’s meager rainfall means we won’t see the same caliber super bloom we were so lucky to see in 2017. But that doesn’t mean the park is lacking flowers! There are still plenty of bright blooms that catch your eye as you explore the park. One such wildflower that pops up every year is called the Woolly Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja foliolosa).

A Woolly Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja foliolosa) nestled in the coastal sage scrub at Cabrillo National Monument.NPS Photo/McKenna Pace: A Woolly Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja foliolosa) nestled in the coastal sage scrub at Cabrillo National Monument.

The Woolly Indian Paintbrush belongs to a large family of wildflowers known generally as Indian Paintbrushes in the genus Castilleja. With about 200 total species, this group of plants is native and most common to the western Americas from Alaska to Chile. Many species are distinguished by their linear-shaped flowers with bright hues at their tips, giving them the appearance of a paintbrush dipped in paint. Many Native American tribes used Indian Paintbrush flowers as a condiment for food and to treat various ailments. However, Indian Paintbrushes sequester the mineral selenium (Se) in their tissues, so their leaves and roots can be very toxic if eaten. Species within the genus Castilleja are also hemi-parasitic; their roots tap into the roots of other plants and steal nutrients from the host plant.

A closeup of Woolly Indian Paintbrush showing the distinct red-yellow flowers.NPS Photo/McKenna Pace: A closeup of Woolly Indian Paintbrush showing the distinct red-yellow flowers.

Castilleja foliolosa is a Paintbrush native to California and the northern edge of Baja California. It thrives in low-elevation, open, arid environments like the coastal sage scrub plant community and is in bloom from March – June. Typically reaching heights of 1-3 feet, the Woolly Indian Paintbrush has red to yellow flowers and fuzzy, gray leaves. The microscopic hairs on the leaves of this plant is an adaptation to surviving San Diego’s harsh Mediterranean climate; these hairs protect from the sun and capture moisture from the air on foggy mornings. Because of the plant’s parasitic nature, you’ll often find the Woolly Indian Paintbrush in close proximity to other native plants, especially Broom Baccharis (Baccharis sarothoides) and California Sunflower (Encelia californica).

The Woolly Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja foliolosa).NPS Photo/McKenna Pace: The Woolly Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja foliolosa).

The next time you’re exploring the park, be sure to keep an eye out for this bright wildflower!

If you missed last year’s spring bloom, check out this past Field Note to learn more.

References:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castilleja#External_links
https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=cafo2

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Last updated: April 11, 2018

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