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)
  • Short stalks of flowers and bracts (modified leaves) 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
      • 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 (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Wildlife
    • Nectar source for hummingbirds
  • Native people
    • Used as a skeletal muscle relaxant (Northeast School of Botanical Medicine 2012)
    • Used by some tribes 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. paintbrushes and owl’s-clovers, which are also in the Broomrape family and hemi-parasitic
    • 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 113: 101-109. JSTOR.

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 5: 181-209.