SCARLET PAINTED CUP INDIAN PAINTBRUSH
(Castilleja coccinea) Figwort family
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
short lower lip 3-lobed; 4 unequal stamens; 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; moist, sandy soil;
Flowering Season - May-July.
Distribution - Maine to Manitoba, south to Virginia, Kansas, and
Here and there the fresh green meadows show a touch of as vivid a
red as that in which Vibert delighted to dip his brush.
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. 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 (q.v.). Caterpillars of
certain checker-spot butterflies in turn prey upon Castilleja.
Under cover of darkness, in the soil below, 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 from this slothful
But even without honest leaf green (chlorophyll), we know that
plants as low in the scale as fungi often take on the most
brilliant of yellows and reds. In the painted cup the bracts,
which enfold the insignificant yellowish cloistered flowers like
a cape, render them great service in attracting the ruby-throated
hummingbird by donning his favorite color. No lip landing place
is provided for insects, as in other members of the figwort
family dependent on bees; although bumblebees, which desire one,
and butterflies, which suck with their wings in motion, may be
rarely caught robbing the short tubes. Among the wild flowers,
only the columbine, with an almost parallel blooming season,
rivals the painted cup for the bird's beneficent attentions. The
latter flowers at about the time the ruby-throat flashes
northward out of the tropics to spend the summer. Professor
Robertson of Illinois says, "In 1886 the first hummingbird seen
was on May 5, visiting the Castilleja."
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