Stems: numerous and tufted on a short rootstock, mostly simple and strict. Leaves: lanceolate or ovate-lanceolate, acute, entire. Flowers: spikes short and dense; corolla long; galea exserted, longer than the tube, the short lower lip protuberant and callous with short, ovate, involute teeth.
This flower, though actually of a pale greenish-yellow colour, is almost entirely enfolded in a long, tubular, greenish calyx, so that it is chiefly conspicuous by reason of its large gorgeously coloured bracts of pink, rose, scarlet, crimson, or orange (and sometimes white), and therefore I have placed it in the Pink to Red Section, for it is here that most people will look for it, as only botanists are ever likely to guess that it is not in reality a gaudy flower.
The Red Indian Paint Brush is the only alpine wild flower which really rivals the scarlet geranium of our cultivated gardens, and no grander sight may be seen by travellers than where from "tree-line," close to the edge of the eternal snows, down into the deep green heart of the valleys, the slopes and steeps are clothed with a marvellous mantle of vermilion and golden Castillejas. As the sunlight flames across these royal-robed hills every blossom blooms and burns with effulgent glory, until "Earth's crammed with Heaven, And every common bush afire with God."
No words can describe the brilliant beauty of such a scene, far from uncommon at the higher altitudes, where many species of Castilleja thrive abundantly, and you may walk for miles across meadows and banks whereon the Paint Brushes and Painted Cups (or Flame-flowers, as they are sometimes called) run riot in magnificent profusion. Every colour, every shade from coral pink to cardinal, from canary tint to tangerine, is growing and blowing on either hand, with here and there a single snowy spike to emphasize the splendid conflagration of colour.
It is wonderful to note that all this carmine and gold is not lavished on the corolla of the flower, but chiefly on the bracts, which are set below each insignificant blossom, from whose cleft tube the long pistil protrudes. The plant grows from six inches to two feet high and the leaves are pointed and have even margins.
The Castillejas are parasitic on the roots of other plants; that is to say, they sometimes fasten their roots upon those of their neighbours and thus prey upon juices already partially assimilated. They have not, however, as yet become hardened thieves; if they had, they would have lost their leaves and green colouring matter (chlorophyll), for every plant that turns pirate is punished by Nature, and branded for all the world to see, by being gradually deprived of its foliage and its honest hue. But the Castilleja is only guilty of petty larceny, being but a partial parasite, and so far it is the botanist, and not Nature, who has denounced its backsliding.
Castilleja pallida, or White Indian Paint Brush, much resembles the preceding species, but its flowers and bracts are always greenish-white, cream colour, or palest yellow. It is a small, short plant, with slender stems and tiny narrow leaves, and it only grows at very high altitudes.
Though this species properly belongs in the White to Green Section, it is placed here for greater convenience.
Castilleja purpurascens, or Purple Indian Paint Brush, is more or less dark purplish-red throughout, and has narrow clasping leaves with smooth even edges. The inflorescence is hairy, the bracts being rarely cleft and usually of a deep crimson hue or sometimes red to rose-colour, while the flowers are greenish-yellow with red margins. This plant is found in abundance in the lower valleys.
Castilloja lancifolia, or Lance-leaved Indian Paint Brush, has numerous long narrow leaves terminating in sharp points. These leaves are rather stiff and three-veined. The flowers have a crimson calyx with a green base, a yellowish-green corolla and bright red bracts.
Castillcja angnstifolia var. Bradburii, or Bradbury's Painted Cup, may be recognized by its leaves, which are large and cleft above the middle into three or five unequal lobes, the centre one being oblong and rounded at the apex, and the lateral ones narrower.
"Flowers that with one scarlet gleam Cover a hundred leagues, and seem To set the hills on fire."
Thoreau speaks thus of the prairie species: "The Painted Cup is in its prime. It reddens the meadow, - Painted Cup meadow. It is a splendid show of brilliant scarlet, the colour of the Cardinal Flowers, and surpassing it in mass and profusion. I do not like the name. It does not remind me of a cup, rather of a flame when it first appears. It might be called Flame Flower, or Scarlet-tip. Here is a large meadow full of it, and yet very few in the town have ever seen it. It is startling to see a leaf thus brilliantly painted, as if its tip were dipped into some scarlet tincture surpassing most flowers in intensity of colour."
These words are equally applicable to the mountain Cas-tillejas. Truly the glorious flower-spikes of the Paint Brushes and Painted Cups are like tongues of flame that run burning through the herbage of the hillsides.
"Scarlet tufts Are glowing in the green like flakes of fire."
And when we see them in their royal radiance we remember how the ancients once worshipped the God of Fire - and understand.
Castilleja rupicola, or Bright Painted Cup, is a hairy plant with tufted stems growing from a multicipital caudex. The herbage is often purplish and the leaves are narrow deeply cleft into three to seven lobes, while the broad-lobed bracts are tinged with bright scarlet and the flowers, growing in a short raceme, are of the same vivid hue.
Castilleja oreopala, or Magenta Painted Cup, has erect stems which are somewhat furrowed by the inconspicuous decurrence of the narrow sessile leaves that have one or two pairs of spreading lobes. The bracts are three-cleft to the middle and their lobes, as well as the calyx, are usually a rich magenta or rose-purple hue, rarely crimson or white. This plant grows at very high altitudes.