Indian paintbrush is a fun plant to see, it tends to bring a bright splash of color to desert hillsides. There are many species of Indian paintbrush and they can be tricky to identify. Paintbrushes belong to the Snapdragon Family (Scrophulariaceae). They come in all sorts of bright colors, yellow, pink, orange and red. Although, it seems most people tend to associate them with red.
Indian Paintbrush are partially parasitic, which means they get some nutrients from the sun, but they also get some nutrients from the roots of other plants. Paintbrush parasitizes directly from the roots of plants, unlike snow plants who parasitize the fungi surrounding plant roots--mycotrophic. In Nevada, paintbrush likes to parasitize sagebrush (Artemisia spp.). You'll tend to see paintbrush growing right next to or under a sagebrush as seen in the picture above.
It's interesting to note that the bright parts of this plant are not actually the flowers, they are modified leaves that form a bract. The actual flower is hidden within the of bright leaves toward the top of the plant. The flowers of the Indian paintbrush are edible, however, they tend to absorb selenium from the soil, so you want to be careful in eating them and not eat them in large quantities.
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We love the Basin and Range region and work to promote appreciation and respect for the area. We encourage all users to learn about, play in and protect this amazing resource.
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