Golden paintbrush adds splashes of bright yellow to the prairies of the Pacific Northwest when it flowers in late spring. This vibrant perennial plant is native to the prairies of Washington State, Oregon and southern British Columbia. As those prairie ecosystems were dramatically fractured and reduced in size by development, agriculture and fire suppression, golden paintbrush too became increasingly rare. However, a suite of public and private partners have worked hard to help populations rebound in recent years. At the time the species was federally-listed as threatened in 1997, fewer than 20,000 plants remained at just 10 sites. By 2018, more than half a million plants could be found at 48 sites.
Hybridization Strategy and Guidance for Golden Paintbrush and Harsh Paintbrush
Location in Taxonomic Tree
Golden paintbrush lives in a legacy of the ice age in the Pacific Northwest. Prairies in the region were created at the end of the last ice age, when glaciers receded and left large swaths of cleared land in their wake. These fertile landscapes, supplemented by glacial till, became a hot bed of ecological activity as dozens of species of insects, plants, mammals and reptiles migrated to open grasslands. Golden paintbrush can now be found in these open grasslands on glacial outwash prairies in the Puget Trough lowlands of Washington State and British Columbia, and on alluvial soils in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. In upland prairies of Washington, the species can also be found on unique mounded prairies known as mima mounds.
The species does not tolerate shade from nearby trees, shrubs or even tall non-native grasses, therefore considerable management or disturbance from wildlife is necessary for its continued propagation. Golden paintbrush does best on sites that are frequently treated using prescribed fire; a three to five-year fire frequency appears to keep the species robust and may facilitate natural reproduction if bare soil is available or created at the time of prescribed fire and at the time of seed release. Long-term management of habitat for golden paintbrush will require close monitoring to sustain existing populations of the species.
Ecosystem with large, flat areas of grasses.
Plants grow up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) tall and are covered with soft, somewhat sticky hairs. The showy bracts are bright golden yellow. The lower leaves are linear and lance-like, the upper leaves are broader with 1 to 3 pairs of short lateral lobes near the leaf tip.
Though it generally flowers from April to late June, golden paintbrush may flower as early as February. It is a short-lived perennial, with individual plants living for 5 to 7 years. The basal, vegetative material can be observed most of the year, making it a prime choice for Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies to feed upon when they emerge mid-winter. Golden paintbrush reproduces exclusively by seed. The fruit is a capsule, which matures in July or August. Seed is collected when the seed capsules mature and many plants reduce to their basal leaves. Some capsules may persist on the plants over the winter, but usually the seeds have dispersed by wind during the late summer or fall. Most seeds from golden paintbrush fall a short distance from the parent plant. The seeds are miniscule; they are light and could possibly be dispersed short distances by the wind, rainfall or carried by animals to other locations.
Historically, golden paintbrush has been reported at several dozen sites in the Puget Trough of Washington and British Columbia and as far south as the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Many populations have been extirpated due to residential and commercial development, as well as agriculture. Recent recovery efforts have helped reestablish the species across its historical range.
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