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 video (Jepson 2019) 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

Jepson Herbarium. 2019, May 22. Pedicularis densiflora (warrior’s plume) [Video]. The Jepson Videos: Visual Guide to the Plants of California. The Regents of the University of California. YouTube.

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.