The bright, warm colored bracts that enclose Castilleja levisecta (Golden indian paintbrush) flowers capture the attention of pollinators and hikers alike. Populations of this species are rare and the fields glow radiantly when it blooms from April until June.
Many populations have been destroyed by the conversion of its native prairie habitat to agricultural, residential, and commercial uses. The decline of golden paintbrush is also correlated with fire suppression. Fire disturbance is an integral component of the prairie ecosystem, maintaining grassland by preventing the successional encroachment of woody shrubs and trees. As a direct consequence of these land-use changes, golden paintbrush has not been seen in Oregon for over 40 years and is now endangered in Washington.
Both federal and private players are vital in the conservation of the nine remaining populations in Washington and two remaining populations in British Columbia. Whidbey Island Naval Air Station monitors and manages a large population on its land. A private landowner, Robert Pratt, specified in his will that 147 acres of his estate, which contained a significant golden paintbrush population, would go to a nonprofit conservation group. Upon his death in 1999, The Nature Conservancy acquired this land and worked with the National Park Service to purchase another 380 adjoining acres. Congress appropriated funds for the Pratt reserve, and The Nature Conservancy borrowed the remaining money needed to expedite this purchase.
Presently, no site contains enough golden paintbrush individuals to be immune to drastic, irreversible declines. Therefore, steps to increase population sizes and establish new populations are necessary to ensure long term survival of golden paintbrush. The University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture is actively involved in these efforts. We thank them for their tremendous efforts.
The conservation experts at CPC participating institutions such as the University of Washington Botanic Garden share their in-depth conservation expertise about rare plants through CPC’s National Collection Plant Profiles.