The scarlet blossoms really do look like bushy paintbrushes dipped in red paint; they’re hard to miss, even in a meadow crowded with wildflowers. Most of us easily identify these iconic perennials, although we may be a bit confused by the species that bloom in pink, white, and yellow.
Here along the Front Range of Colorado, the most common species of paintbrush is Castilleja miniata, more familiarly known as Giant Red Paintbrush. The one- to two-foot plant is easily identified by its long, unbranched stems lined with lance-shaped leaves. They’re topped with colorful bracts, which are usually divided into threes. These bracts are typically red (miniata means “colored red”) but you can also find blooms in shades of orange, salmon, and pink. The actual flowers are yellowish-green tubes that grow to become more visible later in the season.