Nature Alert: Painting the Valley Gold

The landscape is green and lush this time of year, bringing life back to gray winter surroundings…ever think that greenness is a bit monotonous though? To break things up a bit, try heading out in search of golden paintbrush, a rare, native wildflower that blooms right about now and until June. 

Called Castilleja levisecta in some dead language, golden paintbrush is lesser known because it is lesser seen these days. The species is considered extirpated (or locally extinct) in most of its range. Historically, the flower filled the Willamette valley, Puget Trough, and the many islands of the Salish Sea with its warm hue. However, agricultural and urban development, as well as woody encroachment in the absence of fire management, have dwindled numbers so much that it received federal recognition as threatened in 1997. In addition, populations are tricky to restore since the plant grows best when it can parasitize the roots of other native species that have similarly declined. 

You may be wondering why I am telling you to go looking for the plant if it barely exists anymore. Sound the drums people, because we Valleyites are lucky to have not one but two protected lands in our backyard where we can surely see the species if we try. 

Thanks to efforts from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Berry Botanic Garden in Portland, the University of Washington Botanic Garden, the Institute for Applied Ecology, The Nature Conservancy, the Washington Natural Heritage Program, and the Washington Natural Areas Program—wow that was a mouthful that perhaps unnecessarily increased my word count—y’all can spot golden paintbrush in the hillside prairies of Finley Wildlife Refuge and Beazell Memorial Forest from both foot and automobile. 

So go, count your blessings, and behold the glory that is golden paintbrush. 


By Ari Blatt