Common paintbrush is an attractive perennial wildflower with several erect stems from 20-80 cm high rising from a woody base. The stems may be branched and its herbage varies from smooth to short-haired glandular hairy. The leaves are narrowly linear or lanceolate in shape and usually have entire margins, although sometimes a few will have lobes. The leaves alternate on the stems. As with other paintbrushes, it is a root parasite that extracts water and organic nutrients from its hosts.
The leaf-like bracts in the inflorescence are showy. They oblong-ovate in shape and are usually toothed or cleft with pointed lobes. The flowers are in the axils of the bracts. The tubular calyx is narrow and 15-30 mm long. It is deeply and subequally cleft above and below. The side lobes are divided into 2 linear segments from 3-9 mm long. The corolla is 20-40 mm long, with the petals fused to form a tube. The upper part of the corolla is known as the galea. It is about 3/4 to as long as the tube and 5 times or more longer than the dark green, thickened, lower lip. The calyx and bracts are a bright scarlet or bright red (occasionally yellow) while the corolla are greenish.
Common paintbrush may be found in meadows and in open woods from low to moderate elevation in the mountains.
Common paintbrush is a widespread paintbrush species in western North America. It may be found from Alaska south to California and east to the Rocky Mountains and hence south to Arizona and New Mexico.
In the Columbia River Gorge, it may be found between the elevations of 100'-4800' from near Crown Pt. east to near Lyle, WA.