The Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) is spectacular this year. Fields of orange cover Oklahoma. The Paintbrush in this area is specific to AR, TX, LA and OK. Across the world 200 species of Paintbrush thrive as annuals or perennials. Many consider them members of the snapdragon family, but others insist they belong with broomrapes. What are broomrapes? Either totally or partially parasitic plants that resemble snapdragons.

The Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) is spectacular this year. Fields of orange cover Oklahoma. The Paintbrush in this area is specific to AR, TX, LA and OK. Across the world 200 species of Paintbrush thrive as annuals or perennials. Many consider them members of the snapdragon family, but others insist they belong with broomrapes. What are broomrapes? Either totally or partially parasitic plants that resemble snapdragons. Paintbrush leaves have chlorophyll where photosynthesis occurs and energy is produced, but if the opportunity presents itself, the Paintbrush will snuggle its roots up close to those of grasses or other delectable plants and penetrate their roots. Thus, they are considered hemi-parasitic. Dodder, once it gets a toehold, discards its’ roots and becomes a full-blown parasite.

Indian Paintbrush does not transplant well. It has boom and bust years, but this one seems to be a good year for the Paintbrush. Gorgeous stalks along roads and meadows around Shawnee get their beautiful color from bracts, not flowers. Think traditional Poinsettia with its large red bracts. Both plants have very small inconspicuous flowers. The Paintbrush blooms are enticing to hummingbirds and insects, but the Buckeye Butterfly caterpillars love to munch the leaves.

Our Indian Paintbrush is an annual that reproduces by seed…… very tiny seeds. Four million seeds make a pound. The seeds form in capsules at the bases of the flowers and must be completely mature and dry before mowing or collecting. Even then, Indian Paintbrush can be very fickle.

My husband saw hillsides full of Indian Paintbrush as he drove through the San Bois Mountains in eastern Oklahoma. He pulled his car off the road, put on the flashers and grabbed his cell phone. To get just the right shot he laid down on his belly. Behind him he heard “whoop whoop.” Turning around, he saw a Highway Patrol car parking by his car. He stood up and as the trooper walked up, explained he was taking pictures of Indian Paintbrush. Ahh. The highway patrolman thought something had happened and he had collapsed. Well, the Paintbrush was rather breathtaking.

Thanking the patrolman, he started to walk back to his car. “Can I see the pictures?” asked the Trooper. They both stood together and checked out several shots. “That’s a keeper”, that’s not.” The two of them then said their goodbyes and drove off in opposite directions.

Look up. Notice the trees with cascades of fluffy white flowers. Inhale. Detect a delicate fragrance. Who knew we had so many Black Locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia). The trees fade into the background after spring. This member of the pea family was originally native to a few places: the Appalachian Mountains and the Ozark/Quachita Mountains. Today it has spread or been transported far beyond its range, becoming naturalized in many areas including parts of Europe and Asia. Some do not appreciate this lovely tree because it can create an army, thus earning its weedy reputation. If the suckers and small opportunistic locusts are controlled, this landscape tree offers dappled shade with its airy canopy, allowing plants that prefer partial shade to grow underneath. Reports are the Black Locust can reach 80 feet in height, but in central OK it usually grows 30 to 40 feet.

The Black Locust is a very tough tree and tolerates frequent or prolonged drought, pathetic soil and even salt. Nodules on the roots contain nitrogen-fixing bacteria, enabling the tree to add organic matter and nutrients back to the soil, even during dry spells. Black locusts control erosion. These legumes can even be pollarded (remember—tree branches cut to maintain height or provide firewood or rot-resistant fence posts year after year). Please don’t eat any part of the tree except the flowers. They are reported to be delicious and full of nectar which is why honey bees love the Black Locust. So do hummingbirds. And mushrooms. Chicken of the Woods, a yellow shelf fungi characterized by multiple frilly layers, may be found sprouting from the trunk.

From outside basking in nature to inside for evening festivities. The International Dinner was held by the Shawnee Sister Cities Organization Thursday evening April 25th. The Middle School Café was decorated with huge Koi carp flying through the air, the striking Nikaho flag on the window and tables with traditional Japanese shoes, lanterns and Sonic peppermints!

The Nikaho flag has a light blue background with a stylized city emblem in the figure of a blue and green 6 with a small orange ball in front. It represents people in abundant natural surroundings and a rich, vital city looking forward to the future. The fish were koinoboris, the carp windsocks used in celebrations. Great community support was shown, from the number of volunteers working the buffet, drink and dessert lines, the Sister Cities delegates helping where needed, and all the relatives, friends and everyone else who formed a long line ready for an International experience.

Not only could one have oriental rice, vegetable and meat dishes, but several local restaurants were represented by fried chicken, pizza, Tex-Mex, barbeque, etc. The dessert spread was impressive, from pies and cakes to doughnuts and cookies. Ahh, the calories.

From there we made it just in time to the Shawnee High School Performing Arts Center to listen to Sine Nomine, Choral Society of Central Oklahoma under the direction of Herb Moring. This was not their usual type of performance, but a sing-a-long celebrating Shawnee while recognizing many of the Non-Profit organizations in the area. Each gave a short description of their good works and deeds. Sine Nomine, which means ‘without name’, has had 8 directors during its 20 years. Several former members and directors were in attendance.

Have you tried singing “Let me call you sweetheart” but omit all words that start with y? The audience performed well. Some of the choral members, well…..

What about some indoor exercise while singing “My Bonnie lies over the ocean.” Stand or sit at every B word. The phrase “Bring back, bring back, bring back my Bonnie to me, to me” was an aerobic workout.

We discovered that the Oklahoma state song had not always been the Rogers and Hammerstein “Oklahoma.” Curiously, their Broadway song and lyrics are very similar to “Oklahoma, a Toast,” the original state song selected in 1935 but written by Harriet Camden in 1905:

“I give you a land of sun and flow’rs, And a summer a whole year long; I give you a land where the golden hours Roll by to the mockingbird’s song; Where the cotton blooms ‘neath the southern sun, Where the vintage hangs thick on the vine; A land whose story has just begun, This wonderful land of mine.” She continues with fruit trees, quail, fields of golden grain, breezes sweeping the plain, corn growing high ‘neath a smiling sky and so on.

In 1953 the OK state legislature replaced that song with the Broadway tune “Oklahoma”……with pertayers and termaters and wind sweepin’ down the plain. I like the classier lyrics to the first state song better. Flowers, mockingbirds, quail, fruit trees and vintage on the vine. I am sure she meant to say wine!

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.