Sunday, June 20, 2010

Indian Paintbrush

While the Castilleja coccinea species of Indian Paintbrush is on the “threatened” list for some states, it can be found in Western North Carolina without much difficulty.

Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja coccinea, Blue Ridge Parkway, 6/11/10

The Castilleja (Indian Paintbrush or Prairie-Fire) genus includes 200 species occurring mainly in the western region of the Americas. After a heated battle, the Indian Paintbrush prevailed over the Fringed Gentian to become Wyoming’s state flower in 1917.

It will absorb selenium, a potentially toxic alkaline mineral compound in the soil. Where high amounts of selenium in the soil are not present, Indian Paintbrush can be consumed in moderation in salads. For traditional healers, it was a remedy for rheumatism.

The supposed origin of the flower has inspired several versions of what has been called a Native American legend.

Children’s book artist Tomie dePaola is the author of The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush:

Little Gopher is smaller than the rest of the children in his tribe and can't keep up with those who ride, run, wrestle or shoot with bows and arrows. But, he has a talent of his own - he is an artist. When he grows older, a Dream-Vision comes to him: a young Indian maiden and her grandfather tell him that he will paint pictures of the great warriors with colors as pure as the evening sky.

Little Gopher's paintings never satisfy him because the colors are dull and dark, but he keeps trying. In the night, a voice tells him how to find paint-filled brushes; Little Gopher locates them, and they become brilliantly colored flowers known as Indian Paintbrush.

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