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Notes from Yellowstone Part II

By Amy Renfranz (

Article Published: Jul. 11, 2013 | Modified: Jul. 11, 2013
Notes from Yellowstone Part II

There are more than 200 species of Indian paintbrush.

Photo by Amy Renfranz

While my beloved High Country has been inundated with rain, I have spent the past few weeks in a desert just north of Yellowstone National Park.

To sleep at night, I hang my head over my humidifier, close my eyes and envision a good summer rain falling through the oak tree leaves. In my dreams, I often find myself sitting on the front porch of the Moses Cone Manor as a lightning storm blows in. The air is cool and damp, and I am happy.

Can you please send all your thoughts and pictures of storms my way? In return, I will email to you a picture of a prickly pear cactus bloom or a sagebrush lizard.

To my great delight, one wildflower that does very well in this environment is Indian paintbrush.

In all my years of searching, I have only found one spot where it grows prolifically in the High Country: along U.S. 221 near Linville Caverns.

However, the plant can be found by the thousands in the prairies and meadows of the western United States. Not surprisingly then, it is the state flower of Wyoming.

The leaf bracts are actually the plant’s most colorful feature. They can be yellow, orange, pink and the deepest of red.

Amid the colorful leaves, the flowers can be easy to miss. They are small, tubular and greenish-yellow.

The plant received its common name through lore, which is usually the case with wildflowers. The story goes that an Indian brave became upset after failing to capture the beauty of a sunset in a painting. The colors that he had were not brilliant enough.

Hearing his cries, the Great Spirit sent him paintbrushes that were wet with the vibrant hues. At last, the brave was successful. His new brushes applied the bright yellow, red and orange colors that he needed.

In celebration, the man tossed the paintbrushes into the air. Wherever one landed an Indian paintbrush plant began to grow.

Other than U.S. 221, other places to look for the plant are on the Blue Ridge Parkway between mileposts 369 and 371.

Amy Renfranz is a North Carolina certified environmental educator, certified interpretive guide and a Yellowstone Association Institute certified naturalist. Have a question? Email Amy at (

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