Indian Paintbrush Castilleja scabrida

👤 Non-toxic to humans
🐾 Non-toxic to pets
🌸 Blooming
🍪 Not edible
‍🌱 Hard-care
rough Indian paintbrush


Commonly known as desert Indian paintbrush, this plant is characterized by its vibrant and showy floral display. The most striking feature is its brightly colored bracts which are often mistaken for petals. These bracts can range from a fiery red to orange, sometimes with shades of yellow, giving the impression of paintbrushes dipped in bold pigment, hence the name. The true flowers are actually smaller and found nestled within these bracts, usually in a contrasting color which adds to the visual interest. Its leaves are typically narrow and linear with a rough texture, creating a somewhat ragged appearance. They are arranged in an alternating pattern along the stem, and their color is usually a dull green which makes the bright bracts stand out even more. The whole plant is often covered with fine hairs which can give it a slightly fuzzy appearance. Overall, the plant's display is a combination of its unique bracts, inconspicuous flowers, and textured foliage, making it a distinctive presence in its natural habitat. The desert Indian paintbrush brings a splash of color to the areas where it grows, often providing a stark contrast to the surrounding environment.

Plant Info
Common Problems

About this plant

  • memoNames

    • Family


    • Synonyms

      Desert Indian Paintbrush, Rough Indian Paintbrush, Scabrid Indian Paintbrush.

    • Common names

      Castilleja scabrida.

  • skullToxicity

    • To humans

      Castilleja scabrida, commonly known as Indian paintbrush, does not have a well-documented profile for toxicity to humans. However, many species in the Castilleja genus contain alkaloids and may cause mild toxicity if ingested. Symptoms are typically not severe and might include gastrointestinal discomfort such as nausea and vomiting. Ingesting any part of the plant is not recommended due to the potential for adverse reactions, although the consequences are usually not life-threatening.

    • To pets

      Indian paintbrush (Castilleja scabrida) is not well-known for being toxic to pets, but it is advisable to prevent pets from ingesting this plant. While toxicity information specific to pets is limited, the presence of alkaloids could potentially cause mild gastrointestinal upset, including symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea. It is best to err on the side of caution and keep the plant out of reach of pets to avoid any possible negative effects.

  • infoCharacteristics

    • Life cycle


    • Foliage type


    • Color of leaves


    • Flower color


    • Height

      1-2 feet (0.3-0.6 meters)

    • Spread

      1 foot (0.3 meters)

    • Plant type


    • Hardiness zones


    • Native area



  • money-bagGeneral Benefits

    • Ecosystem support - Castilleja scabrida, commonly known as Desert Indian Paintbrush, is an important food source for pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds, helping to maintain the health and balance of the ecosystems it inhabits.
    • Soil stabilization - The root system of Desert Indian Paintbrush helps to stabilize soil and prevent erosion, particularly in the arid environments where it naturally grows.
    • Drought resistance - As a native of dry regions, the Desert Indian Paintbrush is adapted to survive in drought conditions, making it a valuable species for xeriscaping and water-efficient gardens.
    • Biodiversity enhancement - The plant contributes to biodiversity by providing habitat and nourishment for various species, thus supporting the overall diversity of life in its native range.
    • Aesthetic appeal - With its vibrant flowers and unique appearance, the Desert Indian Paintbrush is often used in ornamental gardening, adding color and visual interest to landscapes.
    • Wildlife nutrition - Its flowers are a source of nectar for many species, playing a vital role in the diets of local wildlife.
    • Educational value - The Desert Indian Paintbrush can serve as an educational tool to teach about plant adaptation, pollination, and the importance of native species within their ecosystems.
    • Cultural significance - Native American tribes have historically used the Desert Indian Paintbrush in their cultural practices, though non-medical uses are referenced here, the plant holds a place in traditional customs and lore.

  • medicalMedical Properties

    This plant is not used for medical purposes.

  • windAir-purifying Qualities

    This plant is not specifically known for air purifying qualities.

  • leavesOther Uses

    • Castilleja scabrida, commonly known as Indian paintbrush, can be used as a natural dye due to its vibrant coloration, providing hues for textiles and crafts.
    • The stems and flowers of Indian paintbrush may be incorporated into floral arrangements and bouquets for their unique texture and color.
    • In some cultures, Indian paintbrush is used ceremonially, often as a symbol of appreciation for nature's beauty.
    • The Indian paintbrush can serve as a teaching tool in botany classes for understanding parasitic plant relationships, as it partially relies on other plants for nutrients.
    • These plants are sometimes used in ecological restoration projects to support native pollinator populations by providing nectar and habitat.
    • Indian paintbrush seeds are used in wildflower seed mixes to enhance the visual appeal of naturalized areas and roadsides.
    • Castilleja scabrida is occasionally used as a natural insect repellent in gardens, though its efficacy is anecdotal and not scientifically proven.
    • Landscapers and garden designers may use Indian paintbrush to create a "wild" or untamed aesthetic in ornamental gardens due to its irregular growth patterns.
    • Graduate-level research projects may include Indian paintbrush in studies of interspecies interactions and adaptation in semi-parasitic plants.
    • The plant can act as a bioindicator in ecological studies, as its presence and health may reflect the quality of the surrounding ecosystem.

Interesting Facts

  • bedFeng Shui

    The Indian paintbrush is not used in Feng Shui practice.

  • aquariusZodiac Sign Compitability

    The Indian paintbrush is not used in astrology practice.

  • spiralPlant Symbolism

    • Adaptability: Castilleja scabrida, commonly known as Indian paintbrush, often thrives in varied and challenging environments, symbolizing the ability to adapt and flourish under diverse conditions.
    • Creativity: The vivid and paintbrush-like appearance of the Indian paintbrush's bracts are reminiscent of an artist's brush, representing creativity and the expression of one's inner artistic talents.
    • Attraction: With its bright colors, the Indian paintbrush is designed to attract pollinators, symbolizing the power of attraction and allure in both nature and human relationships.
    • Healing: Some Native American tribes used the Indian paintbrush for medicinal purposes, providing it with a symbolic meaning of healing and the restoration of health.

Every 1-2 weeks
2500 - 10000 Lux
Every year
Not needed
  • water dropWater

    The Desert Paintbrush requires minimal watering, reflecting its adaptation to dry habitats. It should be watered approximately once every two weeks, providing about 1 gallon of water per plant for each watering session. Ensure that the water reaches deep into the soil to encourage deep root growth, which helps the plant withstand drought conditions. During the growing season in spring and early summer, keep the soil slightly moist but never waterlogged. In the dormant winter months, reduce watering frequency as the plant requires less water.

  • sunLight

    Desert Paintbrush thrives in full sun conditions, where it can receive direct sunlight for at least 6 hours per day. The ideal spot for this plant is an open area free from the shade of larger plants or structures. However, it can tolerate some light afternoon shade, especially in environments with very intense midday sunlight.

  • thermometerTemperature

    Desert Paintbrush is a hardy plant that can tolerate a range of temperatures, from a minimum of around 10 degrees Fahrenheit up to an optimal range of 60 - 75 degrees Fahrenheit. They are well-suited for regions with cool nights and warm days and can survive occasional dips into very cold temperatures, provided they are not prolonged.

  • scissorsPruning

    Pruning of the Desert Paintbrush should be undertaken to remove any dead or dying stems, which helps to encourage new growth and maintain plant health. The best time to prune is late winter or early spring, before new growth starts. Pruning can be done annually, cutting back the plant by about one-third to promote lush, dense foliage.

  • broomCleaning

    As needed

  • bambooSoil

    Indian Paintbrush prefers well-draining, gritty soil similar to its native habitats. A mix of sand, loamy soil, and peat should provide the right balance, with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5 being ideal to support growth and flowering.

  • plantRepotting

    Indian Paintbrush does not require frequent repotting due to its preference for less nutrient-rich soils. Repot every two to three years or when the plant appears to outgrow its container.

  • water dropsHumidity & Misting

    Indian Paintbrush thrives in moderate humidity conditions, typical of many outdoor environments; excessive humidity can promote rot and fungal diseases.

  • pinSuitable locations

    • Indoor

      Provide bright light and airy location; avoid overwatering.

    • Outdoor

      Full sun, well-draining soil; can tolerate dry conditions.

    • Hardiness zone

      Unavailable data for Castilleja scabrida; related species often hardy in 4-9 USDA.

  • circleLife cycle

    Castilleja scabrida, commonly known as the Desert Indian Paintbrush, begins its life as a seed, which germinates when environmental conditions are optimal, usually requiring a period of cold before sprouting. Upon germination, the seedling develops a root system and a rosette of leaves at the soil surface. As it matures, the plant forms a stem and produces a series of lance-shaped leaves, during which it may establish a hemiparasitic relationship with nearby plants to obtain nutrients. The Desert Indian Paintbrush then blooms, showing its characteristic bright red bracts which are often mistaken for petals, with the actual flowers being inconspicuous and greenish. After pollination, typically by hummingbirds or insects attracted to the bracts, seeds are produced which then are dispersed to complete the life cycle. The plant typically completes its life cycle within a single growing season, behaving as an annual or sometimes as a biennial.

  • sproutPropogation

    • Propogation time


    • The most popular method of propagation for Castilleja scabrida, commonly known as the desert Indian paintbrush, is through seed sowing. The best time to propagate by seed is in the fall, as this allows for a cold stratification period that naturally occurs during the winter, which helps break the seed's dormancy. To propagate, seeds should be scattered over a well-draining soil mix and lightly covered. They require full sunlight and should be kept moist until germination, which typically occurs in the spring. Since desert Indian paintbrush is a hemiparasitic plant, growing it alongside a host plant, such as grasses or sagebrush, can enhance its growth and survival.