SPP Plant Profile: Golden Paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta)

SPP Plant Profile: Golden Paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Basic information: Castilleja levisecta is an endangered perennial herb that can grow up to 20 inches tall and is covered with soft, sticky hairs.  Occurring in open grasslands in the Puget Trough, the species used to be common from British Columbia to the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  Now only a few populations remain, mostly in the area of the San Juan Islands and in the Puget Sound prairies.  Similar to other prairie species, populations have declined due to loss of habitat to agriculture, residential, and commercial uses.  The suppression of fire disturbance, a vital component of the prairie ecosystem, has also led to the decline of populations (see previous post on Prairie Fires).  The U.S. and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are actively reintroducing this species that nearly went extinct within the last two decades.

Ecological Importance:

Golden Paintbrush is relatively short-lived, with individual plants only surviving for 5-6 years.  Although it tends to grow in clumps from one to fifteen stems, it seems to reproduce only through seed.  As mentioned in previous posts, paintbrush species are hemi-parasitic.  Studies have shown Golden Paintbrush that were established with Roemer’s Fescue (Festuca roemeri), were more successful after outplanting than those established alone or with Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum).  Other studies have shown that Castilleja levisecta grown in a greenhouse with Eriophyllum lanatum were larger than with other host species.  Pollinators of Golden Paintbrush are currently being studied, but previous research described a species of bumblebee (Bombus californicus) as an active pollinator.

Fun Facts:

Paintbrush species are known to actively absorb selenium, which is a mineral that is toxic in high concentrations.  This is an unexplored use of paintbrush for reclamation of areas contaminated with selenium.  The dense growth nature of Castilleja levisecta may make it the most useful for this purpose.

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