Species Profile

Cliff Paintbrush

Scientific Name: Castilleja rupicola
Taxonomy Group: Vascular Plants
COSEWIC Range: British Columbia
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: May 2005
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: Met criteria for Endangered, D1, but designated Threatened, D1+2, because it is distributed over several mountain ridges and thus is not at imminent risk of extirpation.
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: A perennial of restricted geographical occurrence found on cliffs, rock outcrops and ridges at high elevations. The small, fragmented, populations consist of scattered individuals, likely fewer than 250 plants, which are exceptionally vulnerable to stochastic events.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in May 2005.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2006-08-15

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents


Cliff Paintbrush is a perennial herb that grows 10 to 20 cm tall. The several slightly hairy stems are clustered at the base and erect near the top. The leaves are alternate and usually have three to five lobes. The relatively few small flowers are clustered in a dense spike at the end of the stem. They are surrounded by small bright scarlet or crimson specialized leaves, or bracts. The bracts are mostly deeply five-lobed and much shorter than the flowers. The greenish flowers are two-lipped, the upper lip beak-like. The fruits are dry and contain many seeds.


Distribution and Population

The range of the Cliff Paintbrush extends from southwestern British Columbia to central Oregon. In Canada, the species is known from only the Chilliwack and Skagit river drainages (in the Cascade Mountains of southwestern British Columbia) and a historical site on Brunswick Mountain, in the southern Coast Mountains.   A total of 15 historical and extant populations have been documented in British Columbia. There are three recently (2003) located populations in the Skagit River valley in southwestern British Columbia. Eleven other records of the species, from between 1901 and 1999, are known from both the Skagit and the Chilliwack river valleys. A 1912 collection was also made on Brunswick Mountain in the southern Coast Mountains. There is virtually no information on the size of these 12 populations, some of which may have since been extirpated. The three recently located populations number from one to three plants.   Trends for these populations are unknown but can be expected to vary depending on the plant’s lifespan. Also, since the plants apparently occur in only very small numbers, the success of seed germination and seedling survival will play a major role in these trends.



Cliff Paintbrush occurs in the mountains, on gravelly or stony soils, often in crevices on cliffs, rock outcrops, and ridges at high elevations. Vegetation cover in these habitats is sparse. At higher elevations, meadows and tree clumps are replaced by short herbs and stunted trees.



Little information is available on the biology of Cliff Paintbrush. However, it is believed that most, if not all, Castilleja species require cross-pollination to set seed. Many species appear to be pollinated by hummingbirds, while others appear to be pollinated by bees. Seed production is likely to be of critical importance to Cliff Paintbrush, because it does not appear to be capable of reproducing by any other means. Local seed dispersal is likely by wind, birds, and small mammals.   As with other Castilleja species, it is likely that Cliff Paintbrush is a facultative parasite on the roots of other species. Although the species is capable of completing its life cycle in the absence of a host, most individuals exhibit faster growth rates when grown with other species. Castilleja species obtain supplementary nourishment by forming modified roots that attach to the roots of host plants, including other Castilleja plants.



There are no major threats to Canadian populations of Cliff Paintbrush at this time. However, if global climate change predictions develop, it is possible that habitats at high elevations could be affected. At this time, it is not possible to predict what specific changes to the habitat would occur.



Federal Protection

The Cliff Paintbrush is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.


Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Cliff Paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry


Recovery Team

Team for the Cliff Paintbrush

  • Brenda Costanzo - Chair/Contact - Government of BC
    Phone: 250-387-9611  Fax: 250-356-9145  Send Email


Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date There are no significant threats to the Cliff Paintbrush at this time; it is listed as threatened based on its restricted distribution and small population size. Surveys suggest that there are less than 250 Cliff Paintbrush plants in British Columbia, but that healthy plants are reproducing. A recovery strategy will aid the recovery planning for this species. Summary of Research/Monitoring It is recommended that surveys be completed every 2-5 years to monitor population trends, persistence, size, and the changes in habitat characteristics. Summary of Recovery Activities Recommended activities include: ensuring that the populations in provincial parks have management plans, determining the level of threat to populations, and erecting signage to inform visitors of species at risk in the area and discourage disturbances.


PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

8 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Cliff Paintbrush Castilleja rupicola in Canada (2005-08-12)

    Cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola) is a perennial herb that grows up to 20 cm tall. The alternate leaves usually have 3 to 5 linear, spreading lobes. The inflorescence consists of a dense terminal spike consisting of small flowers surrounded by prominent and brightly coloured bracts (specialized leafy structures). The bright scarlet or crimson bracts are mostly deeply 5-lobed and much shorter than the greenish flowers.

Response Statements

  • Response Statements - Cliff Paintbrush (2005-11-15)

    A perennial of restricted geographical occurrence found on cliffs, rock outcrops and ridges at high elevations. The small, fragmented, populations consist of scattered individuals, likely fewer than 250 plants, which are exceptionally vulnerable to stochastic events.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Cliff Paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola) in Canada (2017-02-03)

    The Minister of Environment and Climate Change is the competent minister under SARA for the Cliff Paintbrush and has prepared the federal component of this recovery strategy (Part 1), as per section 37 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the Province of British Columbia as per section 39(1) of SARA. SARA section 44 allows the Minister to adopt all or part of an existing plan for the species if it meets the requirements under SARA for content (sub-sections 41(1) or (2)). The Province of British Columbia provided the attached recovery strategy for the Cliff Paintbrush (Part 2) as science advice to the jurisdictions responsible for managing the species in British Columbia. It was prepared in cooperation with Environment and Climate Change Canada.


COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2005 (2005-08-12)

    2005 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species Under the Species At Risk Act: November 2005 (2005-11-16)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016-07-06)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update December 2, 2021
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