A beautiful Indian Paintbrush glimmers from damp sedgy meadows on the Door Penisula of Wisconsin. This gorgeous member of the figwort family is saddled with the rather ignominious rank of a hemiparasite. Oh! What is a hemiparasite you may ask… a hemiparasite is a plant that derives some of its sustenance from other plants. In the case of our beautiful paintbrush, it taps into the roots of various grasses.
Our orange flamer has a bit of Spanish flair to it… the genus name is Castilleja. This name honors the great Spanish botanist Domingo Castillejo, who plucked plants in the 18th century. The specific epithet is coccinea, which means scarlet – a fitting descriptor for our showy hemiparasite.
Many believe the brilliant orange floral parts to be flower petals. No, they are not. The eye-catching sprays of orange are in fact brightly colored bracts, which are modified leaves that subtend the true flowers. And it’s a good thing the paintbrush is adorned with those festive bracts, as the true flowers are greenish bits of nothingness.
Beads of water glisten like jewels on the tepals of a stunning Wood Lily. Uncommon and always a treat, these lilies glowed like beacons from the perennial gloom of a boreal forest edge in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I think that orange flowers are especially attention grabbing. Perhaps this is because orange is not a particularly common color in nature. In any event, these plants, when in full bloom, hit the eye with the force of a barreling Mack truck.
Another reason that the Wood Lily is conspicuous is that it is our only native Lilium in which the flowers are held perfectly upright. All of the others droop or nod.
Suffer a spider bite lately? Native Americans would have you believe that this is the cure… they ground up Wood Lily plants and made a thick paste, which was then slathered onto the area affected by the spider bite.
The allure of lilies dates to the beginnings of the written word… witness this quote from the bible: “… Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28-29)