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Montana Field Guides

Sulphur Indian Paintbrush - Castilleja sulphurea

Native Species

Global Rank: G5?
State Rank: S4
C-value: 7

Agency Status


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General Description
Perennial. Stems ascending to erect, simple or branched, 15–35 cm. Herbage glabrous to puberulent. Leaves 2–6 cm long, narrowly lanceolate, entire. Inflorescence glandular-villous; bracts yellow, ovate, entire, ca. as longs as the flowers or with a pair of small lateral lobes. Flowers: calyx 15–23 mm long, primary clefts slightly deeper adjacent to the corolla lip than the back, lobes rounded to acute, 1–3 mm long; corolla yellow, 20–24 mm long, galea 6–10 mm long, lower lip 1–3 mm long (Lesica et al. 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. BRIT Press. Fort Worth, TX).

Diagnostic Characteristics
To identify Castilleja species, it is important to (Giblin et al. [eds.] 2018):
* note colors of the bract, calyx, and corolla while in the field, and
* press many bracts, calyces, and corollas separately to show their shapes.

Sulphur Indian Paintbrush - Castilleja sulphurea, native:
* Bracts and corolla are yellow.
* Foliage is glabrous to puberulent
* Primary clefts of the calyx are slightly deeper adjacent to the corolla lip than compared to the back.
* Galea is 6-10 mm. Lower corolla lip is 1-3 mm.
* Inflorescence with glandular-villous hairs.
* Montana plants occur in valleys to subalpine zones.

Rhexia-leaf Indian Paintbrush - Castilleja rhexifolia, native:
* Bracts are reddish-purple.
* Corolla green to red.
* Upper stem with green, entire, non-lobed leaves (except sometimes the uppermost).
* Primary clefts of the calyx are about equal.
* Galea is 8-12 mm. Lower corolla lip is 1-4 mm.
* Inflorescence with viscid-villous hairs.
* Montana plants occur in subalpine to alpine zones.

Western Indian Paintbrush - Castilleja occidentalis, native:
Hybridizes with Castilleja rhexifolia resulting in flowers colored from white to purple (Lesica et al. 2012). In Alberta Canada, plants intergrade with Castilleja sulphurea (Moss and Packer 1983).
* Plants short, 10-20 cm tall.
* Bracts are yellow-white to green, sometimes purple-tipped.
* Upper third of the stem with green, mostly entire, non-lobed leaves.
* Uppermost leaves narrowly lanceolate.
* Inflorescence with viscid-villous hairs.
* Montana plants occur in upper subalpine to alpine zones.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Range Comments
BC, AB south to UT, NM and SD (Lesica et al. 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. BRIT Press. Fort Worth, TX).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 140

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Grasslands, dry meadows, hummocks in fens; valleys to subalpine (Lesica et al. 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. BRIT Press. Fort Worth, TX).

The following animal species have been reported as pollinators of this plant species or its genus where their geographic ranges overlap: Bombus appositus, Bombus bifarius, Bombus fervidus, Bombus flavifrons, Bombus melanopygus, Bombus sylvicola, Bombus occidentalis, and Bombus kirbiellus (Macior 1974, Thorp et al. 1983, Bauer 1983, Mayer et al. 2000, Wilson et al. 2010, Pyke et al. 2012, Koch et al. 2012, Miller-Struttmann and Galen 2014, Williams et al. 2014).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Bauer, P.J. 1983. Bumblebee pollination relationships on the Beartooth Plateau tundra of Southern Montana. American Journal of Botany. 70(1): 134-144.
    • Cronquist, A., A.H. Holmgren, N.H. Holmgren, J.L. Reveal, and P.K. Holmgren. 1984. Intermountain Flora: Vascular Plants of the Intermountain West, U.S.A. Vol. 4, Subclass Asteridae (except Asteraceae). Bronx, NY: New York Botanical Garden. 573 pp.
    • Hitchcock, C.L. and A. Cronquist. 2018. Flora of the Pacific Northwest: An Illustrated Manual. Second Edition. Giblin, D.E., B.S. Legler, P.F. Zika, and R.G. Olmstead (eds). Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press in Association with Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. 882 p.
    • Koch, J., J. Strange, and P. Williams. 2012. Bumble bees of the western United States. Washington, DC: USDA Forest Service, Pollinator Partnership. 143 p.
    • Lesica, P., M.T. Lavin, and P.F. Stickney. 2012. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants. Fort Worth, TX: BRIT Press. viii + 771 p.
    • Macior, L.M. 1974. Pollination ecology of the Front Range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Melanderia 15: 1-59.
    • Mayer, D.F., E.R. Miliczky, B.F. Finnigan, and C.A. Johnson. 2000. The bee fauna (Hymenoptera: Apoidea) of southeastern Washington. Journal of the Entomological Society of British Columbia 97: 25-31.
    • Miller-Struttmann, N.E. and C. Galen. 2014. High-altitude multi-taskers: bumble bee food plant use broadens along an altitudinal productivity gradient. Oecologia 176:1033-1045.
    • Moss, E. H. and J. G. Packer. 1983. Flora of Alberta. 2nd edition revised by J. G. Packer. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 687 pp.
    • Pyke, G.H., D.W. Inouye, and J.D. Thomson. 2012. Local geographic distributions of bumble bees near Crested Butte, Colorado: competition and community structure revisited. Environmental Entomology 41(6): 1332-1349.
    • Thorp, R.W., D.S. Horning, and L.L. Dunning. 1983. Bumble bees and cuckoo bumble bees of California (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Bulletin of the California Insect Survey 23:1-79.
    • Williams, P., R. Thorp, L. Richardson, and S. Colla. 2014. Bumble Bees of North America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 208 p.
    • Wilson, J.S., L.E. Wilson, L.D. Loftis, and T. Griswold. 2010. The montane bee fauna of north central Washington, USA, with floral associations. Western North American Naturalist 70(2): 198-207.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • Lesica, P., M.T. Lavin, and P.F. Stickney. 2022. Manual of Montana Vascular Plants, Second Edition. Fort Worth, TX: BRIT Press. viii + 779 p.
    • Williams, K.L. 2012. Classification of the grasslands, shrublands, woodlands, forests and alpine vegetation associations of the Custer National Forest portion of the Beartooth Mountains in southcentral Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 376 p.
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Citation for data on this website:
Sulphur Indian Paintbrush — Castilleja sulphurea.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from