Castilleja (Indian Paintbrush)To some they are among the most beautiful of flowers. To others they are ugly and wicked. By any measure the genus Castilleja provides some of the most interesting of all mountain plants. Though some species extend onto lowlands and deserts, most are found from the foothills up into the high elevations. Some of the more interesting species are limited to the highest subalpine and alpine tundra habitats. These hemiparasitic plants are mostly perennial species, but there are a few rare annuals. The group is named for Domingo Castillejo, a Spanish botanist.
Though there are about 200 species, Indian paintbrush is only prolific in mountainous western North America, where most occur. There is one Asian species and a few in the Andes of South America. Of particular note are the Wallowa and Blue Mountains of northeast Oregon, a region well represented by endemic species. There are a handful of species in this area that grow nowhere else in the world. On a single climb on one Wallowa summit I counted eight species of Castilleja in one day, including four of the endemics. The coastal hills and mountains of the California Floristic Province are another distributional hot spot.
Identifying species within the genus Castilleja can at times be very difficult. Competent botanists may misidentify these species or disagree on defining characters. Such features as hair type, bract and leaf incision, and the shape of certain floral structures are important in distinguishing species, but are generally ill defined or highly variable. The general floral structure itself is very different from most other flowers and can be very confusing to casual botanists and others. While some species behave, many simply do not. The following excerpt is from, The Jepson Manual, Higher Plants of California: Highly variable within and between populations. Hybridization and polyploidy common; polyploid forms may have separate ranges or be more or less identifiable within populations by minor characters. Biologically consistent taxa very difficult to define. You get the picture.
Owl clovers (Orthocarpos) are a closely related genus composed mostly of annual species. Most botanists (including myself) consider them to be separate from Castilleja, but some prefer to group them. To be inclusive they are included here. Species of owl clover are especially abundant in California. Both of these genera are members of the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae).
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