Penstemon – Beard-tongue
The penstemons are among the most beautiful of our flowers. Their five-petaled flowers have two paired stamens. There is always a fifth sterile stamen (a 'staminode') without an anther at its tip. It may be hairy and partially occlude the floral throat of the flower, hence the plantsí common name 'beard-tongue'.
The flowers are born in whorls, known as 'verticillasters'. Most are blue, purple, or lavender, but pink, white and even red species also occur. The petals of the flowers are joined to a corolla, having an upper and a lower lip. The upper lip has 2 lobes and the lower lip has 3 lobes. The sepals are joined to a calyx which has 5 points, sometimes with extended, linear tips.
Some species are covered with small glandular hairs on flowers or stems, but leaves are most often hairless. The shape of the leaves is usually lance-shaped or elliptic, sometimes with small teeth on the edges. Stem leaves are opposite and stalkless, sometimes clasping the stem. The fruits are capsules containing many small seeds.
Itís said that the name 'penstemon' was derived from the Greek 'pente' meaning 'five' for five stamens. There are over 250 species of penstemon worldwide, and most are native to the American west.
Guide to Identify Presented Species of Genus Penstemon
P. nitidus – Wax-leaved Penstemon
Stems about 30 cm tall. Rocky or gravelly prairies at lower elevations. Flowers blue, ca 15 mm long, crowded, with 1 yellow-hairy stamen inside. Leaves elliptic, broad, thick, hairless with bluish cast. Upper leaves clasping.
P. procerus – Slender Penstemon
Stems slender, 10-40 cm tall, clumped. Dry to moist sites, plains-subalpine. Flowers dark blue-purple, 6-11 mm long, in dense, often separated whorls. Leaves narrowly oval to lance-shaped, 4-8 cm long, deep green.
P. eriantherus – Fuzzy-tongued Penstemon
Stems stout 10-40 cm tall, sticky-glandular. Dry, clay soils, prairie to montane. Flowers pale blue-purple, 2-3 cm long, with short tubes. Many in dense whorls. Leaves narrowly elliptic, sometimes slightly toothed and short-hairy.
P. deustus – Hotrock Penstemon
Stems 20-60 cm tall, woody base. Grassy and rocky sites, plains-subalpine. Flowers white or cream, 8-20 mm long, in dense clusters. Upper 2 lobes small. Leaves oblanceolate, up to 6 cm long and 2.5 cm wide, toothed.
P. fruticosus – Shrubby Penstemon
Stems up to 40 cm tall, mat-forming. Rocky to wooded areas, foothills-alpine. Flowers few, blue-purple, up to 50 mm long. Sepals glandular, pointed tips. Leaves narrowly lance-shaped, evergreen, leathery, and shiny green.
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