Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush © 2008 Bo Mackison

I found large patches of Indian Paintbrush on the grassy fringes of the shores of Lake Michigan in northern Wisconsin last weekend. It grows throughout the temperate zones of North America from May through July, especially in the prairies or meadows and in sandy areas.

Native Americans from many tribes used the plant for medicinal purposes. Chippewa brewed its leaves for a tea for rheumatism, Hopi women used the entire plant in a tea as a contraceptive, Navajos made a tea from the blossoms to treat burns and insect bites.

And according to a Native American legend, a young man was painting a picture of a sunset, but was unable to capture the vibrant orange hues to his satisfaction. He asked the Great Spirit for aid and he was given many paintbrushes dripping with vivid orange and red paints. When the artist finished his painting he tossed the brushes on the ground, and wherever a brush touched the earth an Indian Paintbrush plant appeared.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Joanna Young says:

    Thanks for sharing the background to the flowers Bo. I saw the picture on flickr and loved it, but it’s wonderful to know a bit more about the history and mythology of the plant.


  2. I loved the story and the shot is just amazing! I believe you did the really gorgeous flower justice on every level!!! Excellent work Bo!

  3. rlovison says:

    Beautiful capture Bo and thanks for the background info. I enjoy Native American lore.

    I used to cherish trips to northern Wisconsin as a child and young adult though my family vacationed a bit further west in Eagle River.

  4. This is one of my favorite flowers. We have them growing all over our lawn and meadow.

    Wonderful post, Bo. 🙂

  5. Gandalf says:

    Wonderful detail & a beautiful image. Indian Paintbrushes are amazing flowers.

  6. so fuzzy

  7. jeanabaena says:

    Wow! That is beautiful. The details are incredible and the flower perfect. 😀

  8. HeyJules says:

    Gosh I wish we had that down here in Kansas City! I saw a field of it in Michigan a few years back and its gorgeous!

  9. Your photo has a ghostly quality about it that fits in very well with the story of the Indian painter and his brush. Very nice.

  10. montucky says:

    Simply beautiful! You did an excellent job with this one! That’s slightly different than the ones we have out here. with the color on the tips. What a beauty!

  11. Joanna – I love the legends and lore too.
    Lori – Thanks. Can’t you just see the “paintbrush?”
    Richard – I’ve never been to Eagle River; it’s a part of the state I’d like to see.
    Robin – In your lawn? Wow!
    Gandalf _ Thanks.
    jpt – very fuzzy – the wind was pretty fierce when I was taking the photos and contributed to the “look”
    jeanne – Thanks, it is a lovely flower.
    Jules – The color is what is so amazing – a fieldful would be pretty magnificent.
    David – I like the idea of ‘ghostly’
    montucky – I read there are 100+ species of the paintbrush. I’d love to see photos.

  12. I love the ghost look too.

  13. lady.percy says:

    I’ve always loved Indian Paintbrush…cool picture.

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