Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Posts Tagged ‘castilleja’

Indian Paintbrush and The Watershed Nursery

indian paintbrush

Indian paintbrush

Indian paintbrush is one of my favorite native wildflowers to see hiking, and one of the more unusual plants in any of our gardens. It is a hemiparasite, meaning it takes nourishment from a host plant but also photosynthesizes for itself. To grow it, you have to germinate the seed and then put it in a pot with another plant and wait for them to join root systems; when I read about the process, it sounded like a huge pain in the neck. Now that it’s established, though, it’s really carefree, growing with an Artemisia californica in some of the heaviest clay soil we’ve ever planted in. The two plants have similar foliage, so you don’t notice the paintbrush for much of the year, but then the blooms pop out from under the shrub and carry on for a long time before fading back and going dormant for the winter.

We got the plant at the Watershed Nursery, the only nursery I’ve ever seen selling it, and, in our experience, the best source for natives in the area. East Bay Nursery and Berkeley Hort and Annie’s Annuals are all good for natives, too, but they mostly sell cultivars and their plants come from all over the state, not really “native” in the purest sense. The Watershed Nursery, on the other hand, sells Bay Area natives, grown here in the Bay Area from seed collected here in the Bay Area. If you want to plant the same plants that you see when you’re out hiking, it’s the nursery to go to.

The paintbrush came in a gallon pot with the artemisia, but the Watershed Nursery grows most of their stock in restoration tubes. Restoration tubes, if you’ve never used them before, have some advantages over the typical gallon pots you find in the typical retail nurseries. Compared with a gallon-sized pot, it takes less time for the plant to fill the narrow tubes with roots, so the plant will cost less while still getting its roots just as deep in the ground, and the plants haven’t spent as much time in potting soil, so they are quicker to adapt to whatever soil you plant them in. The tubes have vertical ribs to keep the roots from girdling, and they are open at the bottom so the roots air-prune instead of circling the bottom or heading back up to the top. You don’t have to spend as much time undoing a root ball, so you can plant a lot more quickly, and you don’t do as much damage to the roots, so the plants establish themselves almost immediately. The plants look small when you first plant them, but they often seem to explode out of the ground. I’ve recently been passing by several yards where we planted a lot of Watershed Nursery plants, and they’ve all been looking big and healthy and happy. They have a sale every year during the upcoming Bringing Back the Natives Tour.

The Kew seed slideshow has a cool photo of an Indian paintbrush seed.