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Castilleja purpurea (Prairie paintbrush)
Fannon, Carolyn

Castilleja purpurea

Castilleja purpurea (Nutt.) G. Don

Prairie Paintbrush, Downy Indian Paintbrush, Purple Paintbrush, Lemon Paintbrush, Purple Painted Cup

Scrophulariaceae (Figwort Family)


USDA Symbol: CAPU11

USDA Native Status: L48 (N)

An herbaceous, caespitose perennial from 6 to 18 inches high. Stems and leaves green, with villose hairs lending a grey cast. Leaves linear to lanceolate, with 1 to 3 pairs of narrow, lateral, linear-to-lanceolate lobes. Vivid color provided by lanceolate bracts on 6-inch spikes. Bract color at ends. Muted color on ends of calyces. Corolla inconspicuous, pale greenish white. Calyx 35-34 mm long. Corolla 35-40 mm. Lower lip of corolla 1.5-7 mm long with flaring lobes.

This Castilleja species is native to calcareous grasslands from southern Kansas and Missouri south through Oklahoma to south Texas, and differs from the familiar, annual Castilleja indivisa commonly seeded on Texas roadsides not only in its longer lifespan but also in its wider range of colors. Its three natural varieties feature bracts ranging from yellow to orange to red to purple, depending on variety, with many shades in between. Like many paintbrushes, it is semi-parasitic on grass roots, an adaptation that makes it ideal for meadow and prairie plantings.

Three varieties are recognized. Castilleja purpurea var. citrina, Lemon Paintbrush, sports pale to vivid yellow bracts and a longer and more flaring lower corolla lip than the other varieties. It ranges from central Kansas to central and west Texas in gravelly and sandy soils. Variety lindheimeri, Lindheimer's Paintbrush, has orange to red bracts of various intensities and is found from the Blackland prairies of north-central Texas to the Rio Grande plains. It is more adapted to clay soils than the others. Variety purpurea, Purple Paintbrush, has the widest range of natural colors, usually some shade of purple but occasionally also shades of red, orange, yellow, or white. Favoring rocky limestone soils, it ranges from southwest Missouri southwest to central Texas. Where the varieties meet, an even wider range of colors can occur as they hybridize.


From the Image Gallery

3 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Shape: Lanceolate , Linear
Leaf Pubescence: Villose
Leaf Margin: Entire
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Inflorescence: Spike
Fruit Type: Capsule
Size Notes: Usually 6-9 inches tall but can reach 18 inches
Leaf: Green to grey-green
Flower: Flowers in 6-inch spikes

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Red , Pink , Orange , Yellow , Purple
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun
Bloom Notes: Usually blooms in May. Variety citrina has floral bracts in various shades of yellow. Variety lindheimeri has floral bracts ranging from orange to red. Variety purpurea has floral bracts usually purple, purplish red, or purplish pink but they can also be red, orange, yellow, or white. Where populations meet, the varieties hybridize for an even broader range of colors.


USA: KS , MO , OK , TX
Native Distribution: From southern Missouri and southern Kansas south to the upper Rio Grande plains of Texas
Native Habitat: Gravelly or sandy calcareous grasslands, savannas, and woodland openings

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Dry
Soil pH: Alkaline (pH>7.2)
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Calcareous, limestone-based gravels, sands, clays, and loams
Conditions Comments: It appears to grow best when planted among short or tall prairie grass, because its roots are semi-parasitic on grass roots.


Use Ornamental: Shortgrass meadow, Pocket prairie, Perennial garden
Use Wildlife: Attracts hummingbirds and bees.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Attracts: Hummingbirds
Nectar Source: yes


Propagation Material: Seeds
Description: Propagated by seed in well drained soil.
Commercially Avail: yes
Maintenance: If plants seem to be losing vigor, plant native grasses near them, as they are semi-parasitic on grass roots.

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From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - Austin, TX


Bibref 293 - Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas (1979) Correll, D. S. & M. C. Johnston
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 281 - Shinners & Mahler's Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas (1999) Diggs, G. M.; B. L. Lipscomb; B. O'Kennon; W. F...
Bibref 328 - Wildflowers of Texas (2003) Ajilvsgi, Geyata.
Bibref 286 - Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country (1989) Enquist, M.

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From the Archive

Wildflower Newsletter 1989 VOL. 6, NO.5 - Educator\\\'s Native Plants Poster Perfected, Pass a Law, Protect a Tree, Resear...

Additional resources

USDA: Find Castilleja purpurea in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Castilleja purpurea in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Castilleja purpurea


Record Modified: 2023-01-02
Research By: DEW, JSC, GDG

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