Warrior’s Plume

Warrior’s Plume © EKennedy

Indian Warrior
Pedicularis densiflora

Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)

    • Eudicotyledon
      • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
    • Broomrape Family (Orobanchaceae)
    • Perennial herb, hemi-parasitic
      • Grows from rhizomes (horizontal underground stems)
    • Flowers and bracts (modified leaves at flower base) on short stalk with fern-like leaves at base
    • Upper leaves, bracts, and flowers reddish
    • Leaves
      • Lobed and toothed
      • Lower leaves alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem) and compound (divided into leaflets); upper leaves smaller and simple (not divided into leaflets)
      • Emerging rosettes of leaves are red, turning green; some upper leaves remain red
    • Flowers
      • Inflorescence (flower cluster) is a dense, spike-like raceme (unbranched stem with stalked flowers opening from the bottom up)
      • Bilaterally-symmetrical tubular flower
        • Deep-red, long, hooded upper lip of 2 fused petals attracts pollinators
        • White- or yellow-tipped, very short lower lip of 3 fused petals provides a landing platform
      • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
    • Fruit a capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)
      • Fruits are small, numerous, and wind-dispersed
    • Height to ~2 ft.
    Flower © SBernhard


      • Native to California
        • Grows in pine forests, oak woodlands, and chaparral
        • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
      • Outside California, grows in southern Oregon
      • Grows at elevations to 7,000 ft.

      Uses (Picking or removing any natural material from public land is illegal)

        • Nectar source for hummingbirds
        • Used as a skeletal muscle relaxant (Northeast School of Botanical Medicine 2012)
        • Used by some Native people for psychoactive properties

        Name Derivation

          • Pedicularis (ped-ik-yoo-LARE-is) – from the Latin for “louse,” as ingestion by livestock was thought to cause lice
          • densiflora (den-si-FLOR-a) – from the Latin for “densely flowered”
          • Warrior’s plume – refers to the overall look of the flowering plant, suggesting war bonnets worn by some Native people


            • Partial root parasite (hemiparasitic): capable of photosynthesis, but obtaining nutrients and water from other plants, such as manzanitas and oaks
              • Specialized root structures called haustoria (singular, haustorium) penetrate the host plant’s roots
            • Pollinated by bumblebees and hummingbirds (Lazarus 1986)
            • Look closely to differentiate the flower from the other reddish parts, including leaves and bracts

            ID Tips

              • May be confused with Castilleja species, e.g. paintbrush and owl’s clover
                • Warrior’s plume has fern-like leaves and grows in woodlands
                • Castilleja species lack fern-like leaves and grows in many habitats
              • Check out this short Jepson video for more ID tips

              At Edgewood

                • Found in woodlands
                  • The upper reaches of the Sylvan trail has remarkable examples of warrior’s plume parasitizing coast live oaks
                  • See iNaturalist for observations of this plant
                • Flowers January – July

                See General References

                Specific References

                  Lazarus, W.M. 1986. Floral Resource Sharing by Bumblebees and Hummingbirds in Pedicularis (Scrophulariaceae) Pollination. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, Vol. 113, No. 2 (Apr. – Jun.), pp. 101-109.

                    Northeast School of Botanical Medicine. 2012. Pedicularis (Lousewort) Monograph-Pedicularis as a Skeletal Muscle Relaxant.

                      Sprague, E.F. 1962. Pollination and Evolution in Pedicularis (Scrophulariaceae). Aliso, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 181-209.