FIGWORT FAMILY - ScrophulariaceaŽ: Scarlet Painted Cup; Indian Paint-brush

Castilleja coccinea

Flowers--Greenish yellow, enclosed by broad, vermilion, 3-cleft floral bracts; borne in a terminal spike. Calyx flattened, tubular, cleft above and below into 2 lobes; usually green, sometimes scarlet; corolla very irregular, the upper lip long and arched, the short lower lip 3-lobed; 4 unequal stamens; 1 pistil. Stem: 1 to 2 ft. high, usually unbranched, hairy. Leaves: Lower ones tufted, oblong, mostly uncut; stem leaves deeply cleft into 3 to 5 segments, sessile.

Preferred Habitat--Meadows, prairies, mountains, moist, sandy soil.

Flowering Season--May-July.

Distribution--Maine to Manitoba, south to Virginia, Kansas, and Texas.

Here and there the meadows show a touch of as vivid a red as that in which Vibert delighted to dip his brush.

                               "Scarlet tufts
  Are glowing in the green like flakes of fire;
  The wanderers of the prairie know them well,
  And call that brilliant flower the 'painted cup.'"

Thoreau, who objected to this name, thought flame flower a better one, the name the Indians gave to Oswego Tea; but here the floral bracts, not the flowers themselves, are on fire. Whole mountainsides in the Canadian Rockies are ablaze with the Indian Paint-brushes that range in color there from ivory white and pale salmon through every shade of red to deep maroon--a gorgeous conflagration of color. Lacking good, honest, deep green, one suspects from the yellowish tone of calices, stem, and leaves that this plant is something of a thief. That it still possesses foliage, proves only petty larceny against it, similar to the foxglove's. The roots of our painted cup occasionally break in and steal from the roots of its neighbors such juices as the plant must work over into vegetable tissue. Therefore it still needs leaves, indispensable parts of a digestive apparatus. Were it wholly given up to piracy, like the dodder, or as parasitic as the Indian Pipe, even the green and the leaf that it hath would be taken away.