Kids and I Create a Six-Plant Container for a Tiny Paintbrush Seedling

My younger daughter's family are known here as The Squirrels. The young squirrels joined me to day, to create a container in whicha tiny paintbrush (Castilleja affinis) seedling might flourish.

Castilleja affinis. This year's solitary seedling!
So far anyway...

It's been a disappointing year for paintbrush propagation. Few blooms either in the garden or in wild sites nearby. But zero seeds.

What did bloom, however, was very lovely...

Paintbrush in a container with grass, sedge, coyote mint.

And I did have a few seeds saved - never sow your last seed! - and so far only that one precious little plant has come up.

BTW - I saw the coast paintbrush (Castileja affinis ssp. affinis) flourishing in the wild. I took this picture of one just the other day, at Franklin Point, in San Mateo County.

Coastal Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis ssp. affinis.
It might be paired with the coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis)
or the Artemisia pycnocephala, coastal sagewort.
(Click HERE to see more of the pictures I took on that trip. And click HERE to see an article about Franklin Point.)

But - to our tale.

I started to pick out plants and a pot, and then the young Squirrels wanted to join in, and they were a great help indeed. Here, I'll call them Hazelnut (6) and Acorn (3).

The first task was to mix some perlite into the store-bought organic potting mix to make a lighter planting medium that is well-draining, and fill up the pot.

Hazelnut was excited to learn (or recall) that paintbrush needs other plants in order to grow - that it can't grow all on its own, or not very well (it does have its own roots, but relies on sinking its haustorium into other plant roots also).

She told me that plants need roots to get water and food, and that roots need air, and that's what the perlite is for. Clever girl.

She also told me that some dinosaurs had feathers and that's where birds come from. Hazelnut is very interested in many aspects of nature and has a lot of theories about things. Her theory about birds is that maybe the dinosaurs dropped their feathers and birds picked them up and that's how birds got their feathers from dinosaurs. We had a little discussion about that.

Hazelnut (wearing her latest fabulous mask) is holding her breath
so as not to breathe in perlite dust.

Acorn is doing a good job mixing it all up.

Dumping a batch of planting medium in the pot, watering as we go.

Three different species of sedge (Carex spp.)

I decided to add three different kinds of sedges (Carex spp.) to the container. Their identities are a mystery as yet so this gives me a chance to watch these three as they grow out.

  • The one on the left has soft broad leaves and grew from black round seed. It's not doing well in its pots and I am looking forward to getting all these ones planted (I have a couple flats full of two inch liners).
  • The one in the middle grows tall. Its parents are doing well on the north slope but tend to flop over.
  • The one on the right might be Carex globosa, which stays nice and small and rounded, and is quite tough in dry conditions. It's the one I most hope to grow a lot of.

We'll see! I'm going to work at getting IDs for sure this year!

I also chose a coyote mint, Monardella villosa, seedling.
I think, but am not sure, that the paintbrush paired with this one successfully before.
It could have been the needlegrass...

Acorn is holding up a potted Stipa lepida, foothill needle grass
It's not the most promising specimen but it might do.

We put the tall sedge and needlegrass at the back of the container. In the middle went the tiny paintbrush seedling and near it the Coyote mint. The small round sedges went near the front of the container.

Hazelnut was a pro at loosening up roots that had become compacted in their small pots, so the roots would be able to grow out into the bigger pot. Here's a little video....

And in case the video doesn't work for you - here's a photo from it...

"All right, now this looks like one freed-up plant!" she said.

And Hazelnut learned that you must dig a deep hole for the roots and make sure the place where the leaves meet the roots (the root crown) is just at the surface.

The Silly Pose
Acorn is dressed as "Captain Underwear" (sic!)

We won't know which plant the paintbrush chooses to sink its parasitic haustorium root into, but at least we've given it plenty of choices.

Here's hoping!