Indian Paintbrush

Castilleja coccinea


Photo of Indian paintbrush flowers
The bright red of Indian paintbrush colors our native prairielands.
David Stonner

Orobanchaceae (broomrapes); formerly in the Scrophulariaceae (figworts; snapdragons)


Indian paintbrush has hairy, upright stems with flowers clustered at the top. The actual flowers are inconspicuous, tubular, greenish-yellow, and nestled in the axils of the brilliantly colored bracts, which can be red, orange, or yellow. Blooms April–July. Basal leaves formed during first year, short, oblong, with rounded ends. Stem leaves alternate, stalkless, narrow to linear to 3-lobed with the central lobe wider and longer than the other 2. Both leaf types are very hairy.

Similar species: There are two other species of Castilleja in Missouri, both Species of Conservation Concern. Downy painted cup (C. sessiliflora) lacks the "paint," with only green bracts surrounding the flowers; its flowers protrude noticeably beyond the bracts. It's found only in our far northwestern counties. Purple paintbrush (C. purpurea) has purple bracts instead of red and has clustered flowering stems. Rare and known only from a few locations in southwestern Missouri, it may not occur in our state anymore.


Height: usually about 8–15 inches; sometimes taller.


Photo of Indian paintbrush flower cluster
Indian Paintbrush


Photo of Indian paintbrush plants with yellow bracts.
Indian Paintbrush (Yellow Form)
Some Indian paintbrush plants have yellow instead of orangish red bracts. Consider yourself lucky when you find one!


Photo of Indian paintbrush flower stalks scattered among prairie grasses
Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush at Tucker Prairie

Indian Paintbrush with a cloudy, storm-threatening sky in the background.
Indian Paintbrush at Tucker Prairie


Indian paintbrush flowers blooming on a Missouri prairie
Indian Paintbrush Flowers
Habitat and conservation

A plant of very dry and also wet situations. Occurs in fields, prairies, and glades; also in seepy areas, wet soil along streams, and moist thickets. Castilleja may penetrate the roots of other plants and act as a parasite, but it does not depend on this lifestyle for survival.

image of Indian Paintbrush Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide, except for northwestern Missouri and southeastern lowlands.


Also called painted cup and Indian blanket. Botanists have been busy with the new information coming from molecular research. The traditional figwort family of penstemons, snapdragons, and others (Scrophulariaceae) has been "disintegrated" into several new, smaller families, and many former "scrophs" have been transferred into other, existing families. Indian paintbrush is now grouped with the broomrapes in the Orobanchaceae.

Human connections

Native Americans used this plant for medicinal and other uses, but the name "Indian paintbrush" seems to come from fanciful or legendary ideas based on the brightly colored bracts. This plant is difficult to establish and grow in a garden.

Ecosystem connections

Indian paintbrushes are partial root parasites, attaching their roots to the roots of nearby plants and tapping their nutrients. Most commonly parasitized are little bluestem, penstemons, and prairie blue-eyed grass.