Sunday, July 3, 2016


Castilleja integra in my garden

Castilleja miniata with Penstemon Red Rocks in my garden

Castilleja hispida in my garden

Castillejas at Johnston Ridge, Mt. St. Helens

Castillejas in a moist alpine meadow at Todd Lake in the central Cascades, Oregon

     If you do any hiking at all in the Pacific Northwest you have probably seen castillejas, known by their common name of Paintbrush.  I have seen them growing in virtually all habitats, from forests on the Oregon coast to blasted hot, well drained areas in the eastern parts of Oregon and Washington.  And until recently, I had thought they were too difficult to grow in a garden setting.  This notion that they are difficult garden plants probably stems from the fact that they are partially parasitic on the roots of other plants.  More precisely, they are hemiparasitic, meaning their roots tap into the roots of nearby plants to obtain nutrition from them.  Furthermore, experts have described them as nearly impossible to cultivate in the garden and difficult to grow from seed.  These notions, as we shall see, are erroneous.
     I first discovered that castillejas are, indeed, available in the nursery trade when I happened to see them on the list of available plants at Sunscapes Rare Plant Nursery, a mail order nursery in Colorado specializing in rare plants suitable for that climate. So last year I got three plants of Casilleja integra from them, and planted them near Stipa capillata in my garden. Two of them survived, and one of those is what you see in the first image above. Castilleja integra is native to the inland southwest in Pinyon and juniper forests.  It is native to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.  The plant in the picture above is on a sloped area in my garden, so it is well drained, which I assume is something that Castilleja integra would require.
     Also, last year I visited a native plant nursery in Gig Harbor, Washington--Woodbrook Native Plant Nursery--and lo, and behold, they had Castilleja miniata available, so I purchased three of these and planted them by a Stipa gigantea and Pentemon Red Rocks.  This is seen in the second picture above. These did exceedingly well there.  One of them even bloomed last year, and that same plant has been blooming again this year.  It started its bloom in April, and still seems to be going strong. As it turns out, Castilleja miniata is one of the more common castillejas here in the Pacific Northwest, and it is probably more tolerant of moist conditions than some of the other castillejas.  Indeed, it appears that many castillejas enjoy moist conditions.  For example, the castillejas growing by Todd Lake, seen in the last picture above, were growing in a very marshy meadow.
     I also acquired some Castilleja hispidas last year from Dancing Oaks Nursery.  I planted these in a much drier part of my garden, thinking that was what they wanted.  As it turns out, I was wrong! I think it got too dry for them, particularly as they were first getting established.  Anyway, only one of them survived, but that one is now blooming.  Castilleja hispida is also a Pacific Northwest native. The third picture above is of a Castilleja hispida in my garden, planted near some penstemons.
     Not too long ago I also received some Castilleja chromosa from Sunscapes.  These were tiny plants, but at least two of them are still alive in the garden.  Only time will tell if they survive and thrive.
     Finally, earlier this year I managed to find the list of available plants put out by Seven Oaks Native  Nursery, a wholesale native plant nursery in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  They listed both Castilleja miniata and hispida in mass quantities!  So I made a trip down and bought mass quantities, and planted them in my garden.  They seem to be doing well, and I hope that next year I will have a show to rival that found in some of the areas in the wild where castillejas abound.
     After growing these plants for a little over a year now, I can convey the following bits of wisdom.  First, they need a fair amount of moisture to get established.  I have killed a few by letting them get too dry.  Second, while not particularly picky about host plants, I don't think you can go wrong planting them near grasses or penstemons.  I have also heard that eriogonums and salvias are good host plants.  From what I have read about suitable host plants, the most important point is to make sure the host likes similar conditions to those preferred by the castilleja. Duh! Finally, while they should be planted close to the host, they shouldn't be completely shaded out by the host.
     I have found two very good articles on growing castillejas in old issues of the North American Rock Garden Society Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 2,  and Vol. 65, No. 3.  These are available as free downloads if you go the the NARGS website.  One of these articles tells how to best grow them from seed, and I plan to try that this fall and winter.  There are many tantalizing castillejas to be found in various seed lists, There is even a pink flowered castilleja native to the Olympics which I want to try.  There are also some annual castillejas which I am going to try.  Hopefully my garden will soon be overflowing with castillejas, much to the hummingbirds' delight.


  1. I bought Penstemon barrettiae several, maybe eight years ago, and it had an unnamed Castilleja in the pot with it. I planted this on a south facing, partially shaded retaining wall. The Castilleja bloomed two seasons before disappearing. The Penstemon is still there blooming every spring with its roots partially shaded by an Andean Puya dyckioides and an Oleander. Which seem to be cohabitating quite well. I never knew which Paintbrush it was and I understand there are 70 or so in the western US. I need to try some more of these again. Thanks Linda!

    1. Hi Lance- it's good to know that Pensetmon barrettiae has survived so long in your garden. I have recently planted a number of these, and sometime in the future will write a blog post on them. If they survive, that is. Sounds like I need to visit your garden sometime!