Several years ago, the caretaker for a shoreline property along San Juan Island’s west side discovered a beautiful little golden flower.

Golden Indian Paintbrush

Golden Indian Paintbrush by Kurt Thorsen

This flower, which was on land protected by a San Juan Preservation Trust conservation easement, appeared after a large patch of snowberry and Nootka rose was cleared from a portion of the property that exhibited remnants of native prairie.

The wildflower was quickly identified as Golden Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta), which is currently listed an endangered species in Washington State. Working together, the landowner, the Preservation Trust, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Washington Natural Heritage Program and other native plant enthusiasts developed a management plan to assure that this rare little flower, which only grows in a few places in the San Juan Islands, would be able to thrive.

And thrive it has! After several years of mowing and clearing away competing underbrush, the population continues to expand. Seed collected from the plants growing on this property have been used to propagate additional plugs. This fall, some of these plugs were returned to San Juan Island and – with volunteer help – have been planted on this (and neighboring) properties, ensuring that this delightful little denizen of our disappearing prairies maintains a footing in the San Juan Islands.

the paintbrush planting crew on San Juan Island

The paintbrush planting crew on San Juan Island