Learn How To Grow Castilleja Coccinea (Indian Paintbrush)

Castilleja coccinea [kas-tee-LEE-uh] [kok-SIN-ee-uh], is a flowering annual plant found in moist prairies and meadows. 

It’s native to North America, growing from Maine to Minnesota and Florida to Louisiana. 

Flowers of the Indian Paintbrush
Blooms of the Indian Paintbrush | lee – Adobe

Castilleja coccinea is part of the Castilleja (Indian paintbrush) genus, which belongs to the Orobanchaceae family. 

The coccinea species has several common names related to the showy red calyx protecting the flowers. 

Common names include:

  • Scarlet Indian paintbrush
  • Scarlet painted cup
  • Scarlet paintbrush flower

Scarlet Indian paintbrush is a hemiparasitic plant, allowing it to obtain nutrition from nearby plants.

Castilleja Coccinea Care

Size and Growth

Scarlet paintbrush is an upright plant with unbranched stems arising from a basal rosette. 

The stems are hairy, green, and 4″ to 28″ inches tall. 

The basal leaves are oval, while the stem leaves are irregularly shaped. 

It’s a biennial plant. 

During the first year, it produces rosettes of leaves. 

During the second year, unbranched spikes shoot from the center of the rosettes.

Flowering and Fragrance

The plant blooms in the spring, producing a red calyx from which a greenish-yellow flower emerges. 

The flowers reach a little over an inch long and include inflorescence bracts with deep lobes.

After flowering, the seeds set, and the plant dies. 

Depending on the environment, the seeds may produce new growth the next spring. 

Light and Temperature

The paintbrush flower grows almost anywhere it can receive full sun. 

It’s suitable for year-round growth in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8.

In southern states, the plant may need partial shade.

Watering and Feeding

  • Indian paintbrush needs moist soil. 
  • Water the plant regularly while avoiding overwatering. 
  • Allow the top of the soil to mostly dry between watering. 
  • Keep the soil evenly moist throughout the first year. 
  • During the second year, the plant becomes relatively drought tolerant. 
  • After the flowers start to wilt, outdoor plants don’t need additional watering. 
  • Overfertilizing may harm the plant. 
  • Only use slow-release fertilizer in the spring during the second year of the plant’s life. 
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Soil and Transplanting

The paintbrush flower grows best in well-drained soil with medium moisture. 

Use standard soil with added organic material, such as compost or peat moss. 

If the soil doesn’t drain within several days, amend the soil with sand or perlite to improve drainage.

Indian paintbrush has a delicate root system and may not survive the transplanting process. 

It’s best to sow the seeds directly in the final location for the plants.

Grooming

Grooming isn’t needed for the Indian paintbrush. 

The plant reaches its full height during the first year, produces flowers during the second year, and then dies off.

How to Propagate Indian Paintbrush Flower

Propagate using seeds. 

The plant freely reseeds in optimal growing conditions, and it isn’t always enough to establish annual colonies. 

  • To collect seeds, harvest the seed pods after they start to brown. 
  • The pods appear toward the end of the blooming season.
  • Collect the seed pods before the drop and open. 
  • Place them in a brown paper bag, allowing them to dry thoroughly. 
  • Shake the bag occasionally to loosen the seeds.
  • After several days, open the seed pods and remove the seeds. 
  • You may need to separate debris from the dry seed pods.
  • Store the seeds in a cool, dry spot until ready to plant. 
  • As the plant may not survive getting transplanted, sow the seeds in the garden. 
  • Prepare an area with well-drained soil in full sun in the early spring. 

In cooler regions, wait until the beginning of summer to sow the seeds, ensuring temperatures are at least 55° to 65° degrees Fahrenheit (13° – 18° C).

  • Scatter the seeds over the soil and cover with a light dusting of soil. 
  • It may take several months for the seeds to germinate. 
  • If sown at the start of spring, new growth should appear in the middle of the summer. 
  • Plants sown later in the year may not appear until the start of fall. 
  • By winter, the plant should have a low-growing rosette of foliage. 

During the second year, flowers should appear in the early spring or early summer, depending on when the seeds were sown the previous year. 

The plant will then die again, requiring another round of propagation. 

Planting new seeds each year ensures a continual colony of Indian paintbrush along with flowers each year instead of every other year. 

Indian Paintbrush Flower Pest or Disease Problems

Castilleja coccinea doesn’t suffer from any serious insect or disease problems. 

Avoid planting Indian paintbrush in areas where animals, pets, or children may be tempted to eat the plant. 

While it’s not toxic, the Indian paintbrush contains high levels of selenium.

Consuming large portions of the plant may lead to acute selenium toxicity. 

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and foul breath. 

Suggested Castilleja Coccinea Uses

The colorful flowers of the Indian paintbrush plant look great covering a prairie or open landscape. 

They also work well in native plant gardens.

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