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As with all wild flowers, understanding the basic plant parts and how the function is very important in identifying the plant. Many plants and flowers are recognized by their distinctive stems and leaves as are those recognized by their blooms. The specialized beauty of Indian Paintbrushes densely spread across a field is an amazing sight to see and one that no one should miss.
The flowers of the Indian Paintbrushes are borne in dense spikes on the tops of the stems. They have bright red or yellow leaf like bracts in the flower spike that give it color. All of the flowers are tubular and dull green or yellow in color. The fruits are capsules. This is a perennial, clump forming, downy plant with several erect stems, usually between 1 and three feet tall.
The leaves are alternately arranged on the stem with the lower ones simple while the upper ones are often three lobed. Most species grow on dry open ground in the western United States and Canada on both sides of the Rocky Mountains. Some grow in the woods and in meadows and a few are found in the east. There are very many Indian Paintbrushes, with bracts varying in color from red to yellow bracted plants and even orange. Few are widespread. One species is found in the woods and on road sides in eastern and central North America but this species is not found in the west where the majority grow. The Indian paintbrush or painted cup is a parasitic annual or perennial plant with many species native to the western United States.