Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The beautiful bright orange flowers are five-lobed, about three-fourths of an inch long, and occur in curved clusters of five to twenty at the top of the stem. Up to a dozen stems about six to ten inches long may grow from a single root. Rough hairy leaves about one inch long overlap at the top of the plant, but become progressively shorter and farther apart toward the base.
Look for Indian paint in lightly or moderately grazed prairie. The plant seems particularly well adapted to slopes and lighter-textured soils.Bark on the thick black taproot of this perennial yields a bright purple pigment which was extensively used for paint and dye by native Americans.
Indian paint is a member of the family Boraginaceae. Borage is an old name, presumably of folk-origin, for a European plant in this family. The generic name Lithospermum was compounded from the Greek for "stone seed," in reference to the hard nutlets produced by these plants. Canescens means "becoming gray" in botanical Latin, in attribution to the hoary appearance of mature plants.
This plant was first described by the distinguished French botanist Andre Michaux (1746-1802). In 1792, Michaux was unsuccessfully nominated by Thomas Jefferson to accompany Meriwether Lewis on a proposed expedition to explore the wilderness that lay west of the Mississippi River.