The common name of castilleja applegatei
, wavy-leaved Indian paintbrush, describes one identifying feature; the long, lance-shaped leaves have distinctly wavy margins, as well as a covering of hairs, both short and sticky (glandular) and longer, non-glandular. They are crossed by one central vein and two parallel veins, near the edges. Stems are lightly branched, generally between 1 and 2 feet tall.
The inflorescence extends up to 8 inches along the top of the stems; the red to yellowish bracts are up to one inch long, and they may be divided into up to seven lobes. The narrow, tubular flowers open to two small lobes, the lower divided into three. The corolla is supported by a lobed calyx about one inch long.
There are five subspecies (applegatei, disticha, martinii, pallida, pinetorum), differing in such characteristics as stem height, leaf divisions, calyx length and shape of the calyx lobes.