Scenic USA - Utah

Indian Paintbrush

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Indian Paintbrush - Arches National Park, Utah

Photo by Ron McEwan
Inset photos - NPS

     This picturesque scene in Arches National Park reveals a rare view of an Indian paintbrush nestled among the park's Indian Paintbrush Detail - courtesy NPS signature sandstone fins. This cluster of colorful wildflowers once spread across the entire West, only to be uprooted by the plow. Averaging a foot in height, the clumps of showy annuals produce a flower surrounded by red-tipped spiky bracts. Indian paintbrush roots, semi-parasitic, attach to adjacent plants, absorbing their nutrients and water. The Indian paintbrush plant has a reputation of being unpredictable to grow and nearly impossible to transplant.
      Native American folklore relates a story of a young brave frustrated in his attempts in painting a sunset. His pleas were answered by the Great Spirit, giving him paintbrushes laden with sunset colors. Just like any youngster, the brave dropped his spent paintbrushes in the fields. These brushes sprouted into the wonderful reds, scarlets, yellows and purples of the Indian paintbrush.
     As kids, we've often heard the rhyme April showers bring May flowers, and here in Utah's desert environment it still holds true. Even though moisture is relatively sparse, the spring months put on the best show of wildflowers. Summer Indian Paintbrush cluster - courtesy NPS flowers are dependent on the moisture from thunderstorms, and by winter, wildflower fans will find very few. Desert wildflowers are well adapted to a range of arid conditions, utilizing deep taproots to reach further into the soil or a widespread root system that absorbs surface water quickly.
     While most the Arches' guests come to see the park's grand sandstone arches and magnificent red-rock scenery, some come to seek out the tiniest details in some of the untrammeled, out-of-the-way niches. The Arches Flower Guide makes it easy to find and identify all of the park's flowers in a well thought-out database, including the red paintbrush.

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