The bright, warm colored bracts that enclose Indian paintbrush flowers capture the attention of pollinators and hikers alike. Golden paintbrush is no exception. Of the 42 paintbrush species in the Pacific Northwest, this is the only yellow-bracted one in its range (Eastman 1990). Populations of this species are rare and the fields glow radiantly when it blooms from April until June.
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.
In southern Vancouver Island, the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team is working to save over 100 endangered species, including golden paintbrush. These efforts are essential for the continued survival of golden paintbrush. In the absence of active management, fairly vigorous populations of Castilleja levisecta have rapidly declined to extinction within a few decades. Alarmingly, these declines did not result from overt habitat destruction, but from the 'invisible' threats associated with low population numbers, fire-suppression and weed invasion.
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, also a Participating Institution of the Center for Plant Conservation, is actively involved in these efforts. Indian paintbrush plants actively absorb selenium, a mineral that is toxic in high concentrations (Tillford 1997). A currently unexplored use of Indian paintbrush might be reclamation of land with toxic amounts of selenium. Golden paintbrush, which can grow in dense stands, may be especially useful for this purpose.