Plant of the Week

Map of the United States showing states. States are colored green where the Christ's Indian paintbrush may be found.
Range map of the Christ's Indian Paintbrush. States are colored green where the paintbrush may be found.

Christ’s Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja christii)

By Kim Pierson

Christ’s Indian Paintbrush - (Castilleja christii) is a showy, yellow flowered perennial endemic to subalpine meadow and sagebrush habitats in the upper elevations of the Albion Mountains, Cassia County, Idaho. This species is known from only a single population on the summit of Mount Harrison. The conservation and protection of this rare population is managed by the Sawtooth National Forest, Minidoka Ranger District. It is currently ranked as one of Idaho’s rarest plant taxa.

Christ Indian Paintbrush.
An extremely rare plant, Christ’s Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja christii) is known from only a single mountain meadow atop Mt. Harrison in the Albion Mountains in the Sawtooth National Forest, Idaho. Photo by James Henderson.

Christ’s Indian Paintbrush is a showy perennial herb ranging 6 to 15 inches tall. Stems are erect to ascending and usually unbranched with several in a cluster. Leaves are 2 to 5 inches long and are narrow to broadly lance-shaped. The inflorescence is yellow to yellow-orange with lanceolate to ovate bracts.

Christ Indian Paintbrush.
One of the threats facing Christ’s Indian Paintbrush is invasive species that have established themselves in this mountain meadow. Photo by Teresa Prendusi.

Castilleja christii is currently a Candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act and is on the USFWS Notice of Review List. Castilleja christii is a Sensitive plant species on the Regional Forester’s Sensitive Plant List for the Intermountain Region. A Candidate Conservation Agreement for Castilleja christii outlining 10 years of conservation actions for this rare species was signed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and USDA Forest Service in 2005.

The global distribution of Castilleja christii is confined to a single population on the top of Mount Harrison. The population occupies approximately 200 acres. A precise estimate of the numbers of individuals in the population is difficult to determine. Estimations range from more than 10,000 to greater than 3,000,000 (based on long-term monitoring data).

Christ Indian Paintbrush.
The long-term effect of global climate change on this population that is only known from atop Mt. Harrison may require extraordinary conservation measures such as ex situ conservation of the plant and its seeds to ensure its continued existence. Photo by Kim Pierson.

Castilleja christii is endemic to gentle, north-facing slopes in subalpine meadow and sagebrush habitats in the upper elevations of Mount Harrison in the Albion Mountains of Cassia County, Idaho. Deep snows on the occupied habitat may last until mid-July or August in some years.

For More Information: PLANTS Profile - Castilleja christii, Christ’s Indian Paintbrush

Plant of the Week

Yellow Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris).
Yellow Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)