Growing Castilleja affinis, Paintbrush, from seed, with host plants

Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis (and friend)

Note: This post edited to change the common name from Indian paintbrush to paintbrush. I felt a little uneasy with the name, and then a FB friend messaged me what a Native American friend had told her: "The word 'Indian' used for Native Americans is 'subtly racist'" - Also it is not used in the current Jepson manual.  Be gone all such hangovers!

I am amazed that the seeds of Castilleja affinis I gathered from an ever degrading road-cut near where I live - actually germinated. And so quickly, too! I had given them four or five weeks in the fridge - in a baggie with dampened perlite - then sowed as usual.

But - then they didn't grow much over the next couple weeks.

I read somewhere that you should put them with their host plant as soon as possible. Then after I had done a bunch of transplanting I read somewhere that you should wait for the third or fourth set of leaves to appear!  Luckily, I've still got some in the seed tray to try again later.

Castilleja is hemi-parasitic on a host plant - it puts out some special roots called haustoria that connect with host plant roots to get extra water and minerals. (Info taken from an abstract of an article I can't access.)

The info I could find was spotty - nothing I could really point you to, though this SFGate article is fairly interesting. If anybody has found a good online source of info on propagating Castilleja, please let me know and I'll update this post.

As far as what host plants to put them with, I read that lupine or a bunch grass could be used. I have both of those. Quite a few lupines got damping-off fungus in the seed tray, at least I think that's what happened, not sure actually. However, the potted up ones seem healthy though. I'll try using them in the next round with the larger Castilleja seedlings.

I looked at the photos I took near the collection point to see what the paintbrush was growing near. Some were growing near polypody ferns (Polypodium californicum).

And some near coffee ferns (Pellaea andromedifolia)

I have some polypody and coffee fern growing in the garden but not so much I could transplant any to nurse the baby Castilleja.

I also noticed some growing with Pacific pea (Lathyrus vestitus).

I do have Pacific pea (Lathyrus vestitus) seedlings in my greenhouse!

So -- the plants I've put castilleja seedlings with so far are:

  • Foothill needlegrass (Stipa lepida)
  • Pacific pea (Lathyrus vestitus)
  • Coyote mint (Monardella villosa)
All the host seedlings are grown from local wild seed, or second generation of wild in my garden.  

I gathered the coyote mint seeds not that far from where the paintbrush were growing. I read that C. affinis might grow with a number of different host plants, though it could be soil type specific and limited in other ways. So I thought I'd just try it. Do you see the tiny seedling to the right of the coyote mint seedling?

I'll definitely keep you posted on this project -- please wish the little seedlings success!


Brent Morgan said…
I'm really impressed with your propagation efforts. Keep up the good work.
Country Mouse said…
Thanks, Brent - I'm having fun this year for sure!
Ed Morrow said…
Your pictures make me green (an appropriate color) with envy; they are also inspiring. Finally back on my home turf, I am furiously trying to catch up with the season. Your post on starting bulbs from seed is informative as well as motivating, so I am going to give it a go. A couple more months of these evenly spaced rains and we will have one glorious spring.

Ed Morrow
Carmel Valley
Country Mouse said…
Nice to know you're back home, Ed! - I'm glad you're motivated to get going on some fun projects. Yesterday I planted five shrubs that have been waiting for good conditions -- and the soil was just - Hmmm - good enough to eat! I just hope we get like you say, nice evenly spaced rains - but we're girding our loins for some doozies, all the same.
ebw-pete said…
i've been growing Castilleja foliolosa by seed for several years w/ some really good results. i find that it never transplants well, so i sow it directly on the ground or in large trough pots where it goes nuts! i have it growing w/ Triteleia laxa in one and w/ a manzanita in another, and w/ Solidago and Monardella in the ground. also several different bunchgrasses. as usual, i find that sowing it on a decomposed granite mulch works best - i get tons of babies and always a few mature plants when i use dg.
Country Mouse said…
Ah! The transplanting is the issue - I'm getting the picture now. Thanks, Pete - and for your tips. Not sure if I saved any seeds for a second attempt but if I did I'll try direct sowing - and maybe I'll just put some of these little babies in the ground now and see if doing that while they're very small might help. Living and learning!
Andy Moskowitz said…
Great project! Very interested to see your results. Castilleja is magic.