I’m All Ears


desert paintbrush (see below)
Castilleja species
[Scrophulariaceae in some older references]


When hunting wildflowers, obviously you have to keep your eyes open, and sometimes it helps to keep your nose open. But sometimes it pays to keep your ears open, too.

On my second day in Death Valley, I was waiting in line for the only loo in the lower Dante’s View parking area (loos are hard to come by in Death Valley) when I overheard the woman behind me say to her friend “did you see the Indian paintbrush?”

“No, where?” says the other woman.

“Right over there, behind my car,” says the first.

Well.  I wasn’t going to lose my place in line, but as soon as I finished that task I joined the small crowd gathered around this plant, the only specimen I saw on the trip.


Just like with the past few plants I’ve posted about, I had a bit of trouble nailing down which species this is. I finally decided on Castilleja applegatei ssp. martinii (one of four subspecies) because that’s the one in the pamphlet I purchased at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center; the description reads “May grow through shrubs for support; in mid to high elevations.” As you can see this was growing through a shrub, and that parking lot is a little under 5000′ above sea level.

However… I can never leave good enough alone.  Calflora doesn’t show that species growing anywhere near Dante’s View. A little more research, and I came up with another ID: C. chromosa. Which is a name no longer accepted by ITIS, which calls it C. angustifolia var. dubia.  Which is plausible. I don’t have the details to say which species it is.

About the common names… seldom have I seen so many variations.  These two species may be known variously as:

  • desert (Indian) paintbrush
  • wavyleaf (Indian) paintbrush
  • pine paintbrush
  • Martin’s paintbrush
  • showy northwestern (Indian) paintbrush

I dunno. Maybe I should just call it “paintbrush” and be done.