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Montana

A New Member of the Indian Paintbrush Family

Nature Conservancy Senior Scientist Dave Hanna helped discover the new species.

A New Montana Wildflower: Castilleja kerryana joins the ranks of Indian Paintbrush

Many of us who admire the splendors of Montana’s wildflowers feel lucky to remember the common names of the plants, much less the formal taxonomy. So, we wouldn’t dream of finding a species that’s never been identified before. But the discovery of a brand new species of Indian paintbrush even came as surprise to two of the state’s most knowledgeable plant experts.

“When you get into places where you don’t often go, you expect to see plants that you don’t know,” says Dave Hanna, Senior Scientist for The Nature Conservancy in Montana and President of the Montana Native Plant Society.

So finding a new species wasn’t the goal in the summer of 2009 when Hanna went hiking in the Scapegoat Wilderness with colleague Peter Lesica. Lesica, we should note, is the botanist who, literally, wrote the book on the subject. The Manual of Montana Vascular Plants is one of his many publications. When they spotted the bright rosy red plant, Lesica first thought it could be a known Paintbrush species (Castilleja crista-galli), but they had enough doubts that they decided to circulate photos of the plant to other botanists.

One of those botanists was Mark Egger. After comparing a specimen with the collections at the University of Washington Herbarium at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Egger was pretty sure the two had found a unique species. It took more than a year before he was able to get out to the Scapegoat for a personal inspection, but once he did, Egger was convinced.

“Looking back, it’s a cool thing for this part of the world to find something that’s never been described before,” said Hanna.

Since Egger did all the research and technical work to describe and make official the new species, he also got naming rights. He chose Castilleja kerryana, in honor of two Kerrys very dear to his heart; his daughter “in hope that she may continue to live in a world filled with diverse natural forms” and his sister, “four years a beautiful flower upon this planet.”

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