Plant Profile: Golden Paintbrush

I promised in my introductory post to this blog to do some fun plant profiles in addition to my canning and things, so I am finally going to make good on that promise! I thought it would be fun to start with golden paintbrush, since this is the major study species for my masters project.


Golden paintbrush is endemic to the Pacific Northwest, meaning that it is only found in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. In Oregon there are actually no natural populations anymore. They were mostly destroyed by land use conversion for agriculture and residential development, so any populations you see in Oregon are reintroduced plants. Therefore, a main focus of my research is to improve the success of reintroductions, and aid in the recovery of this species.

There are a lot of really cool things about the golden paintbrush that make it a fun species to study. For one, paintbrush is a parasitic plant. It’s classified as a hemiparasite, meaning it doesn’t need a host for survival but it can attach below ground to the roots of other plants and take nutrients and water from them. The image below shows the connections the plant can make, which are referred to as haustoria. As a result of this quality of the plant, part of our research revolves around giving the plant hosts in order to improve its success in the field.


Another fun fact about the golden paintbrush is that the part of it you typically think of as being the petals are not actually petals. The yellow part on a golden paintbrush like shown below is actually a colourful bract. The actual flower of the plant is reduced and green and rather hard to see here. You can see multiple stamens (the male part of the flower) and pistils (the female part) in the image though. They are super cute, and obviously get their name from looking a lot like a paintbrush.


The scientific name for golden paintbrush is Castilleja levisecta. Within the genus Castilleja there are about 200 species of paintbrush plants of different colours that can be found in different habitats. The one below I saw hiking near Bend, Oregon. In this one you can kind of see the green flowers in between the red bracts.


A final awesome thing about golden paintbrush, and many of the other paintbrushes, is that they are host species for butterflies. In the case of golden paintbrush it is a host for an endangered butterfly, the Taylor’s checkerspot, so in planting paintbrush we hope to help both species recover. The photo below shows checkerspot larvae feeding on paintbrush, courtesy of the Institute for Applied Ecology, where my major professor works. The top image shows them feeding on paintbrush and the bottom is English plantain, which they have been using as an alternate host in the absence of paintbrush.


So there you have it, I study a pretty cool plant!

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