Penstemon: An introduction to species and cultivars
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Penstemon is a wonderful native American genus of wildly varied, flowering perennials. This is a little known genus of vast proportions that would be hard to comprehend in one sitting, maybe even one lifetime. From dwarf ground covers to tall shrubs, xeriscaping to consistent moisture, Penstemons run the gamut of diversity. Here is a brief overview of this wonderful wildflower, straight from a Lay gardener's research journal.
With around 100 Penstemon species to choose from, finding native, beautiful plants is easy. Using native plants is an excellent way to control insects and disease while promoting natural wildlife in your garden. Penstemon are naturally found all over the Americas, from warm Central America to the cold plains of Canada. With varieties acclimated to such diverse growing conditions, you are sure to find one to fit your unique gardening situation.
Penstemon generally have tall, loose spikes of small flowers above small or thin leaves. They vary from a few centimeters to several feet tall. A few species of Penstemon are highlighted here.
Crested Beardtongue (P. eriantherus)
This lavender flowering variety is native to the Pacific Northwest America into Canada and ranging southeast through northern Nebraska and Colorado. It flowers in June and July and thrives in cooler, wetter conditions.
Gulf Coast Penstemon (P. tenuis)
Because it is a Texas native, Gulf Coast Penstemon is a fantastic choice for southern gardeners for its use in mixed borders to add height and color. It is particularly suited to deal with high humidity and less than perfect drainage.
Shell-Leaf Penstemon (P. grandiflorus)
Shell Leaf Penstemon is a large flowering variety that has tubular pink-lavender blooms. It can grow up to 3 feet tall and is a native to the eastern US Great Plains. This is an excellent Penstemon for a big impact in well draining, full sun locations.
Cardwell's Penstemon (P. cardwelli)
Cardwell's Penstemon is also native to the Pacific Northwest and is named for Dr. James Cardwell, who actively studied wildflowers in the late 1800s. A compact shrub, with light violet to pink flowers, Cardwell's Penstemon does well with a little elevation and good drainage.
Whipple's Penstemon (P. whippleanus)
Whipple's Penstemon is a gorgeous plum color native to western United States, which makes it a great candidate for xeriscaping, surviving wind and even high altitude planting.
A menu of Penstemon
Take a look through a handful of native Penstemon species. Notice the large variety of colors and sizes. Click on the image to go to the Plant Files entry of each species.
Eastern Gray Penstemon (P. canescens)
Beard Tongue (P. hartwegii)
Parry's Penstemon (P. parryi)
Firecracker (P. eatonii)
Small's Penstemon (P. smallii)
Beardtongue (P. barbatus)
Scarlet Beardtongue (P. murrayanus)
Sunset Crater Penstemon (P. clutei)
Newberry's Penstemon (P. newberryi)
Mountain Fountains (P. bridgesii)
White Wand Penstemon (P. tubiflorus)
Rock Penstemon (P. baccharifolius)
Rocky Mountain Penstemon (P. strictus)
Dwarf Hairy Penstemon (P. hirsutus var. pygmaeus)
Cascade Penstemon (P. serrulatus)
Shrubby Beardtongue (P. davidsonii)
Pineleaf Penstemon (P. pinifolius)
Cultivars to note
In addition to countless beautiful species, many cultivars of Penstemon are also available. Cultivars offer a wide range of colors, growth habits and bloom size. Cultivars can sometimes be easier to find commercially than species Penstemon, so keep your eyes open for these stunners!
A new group of Penstemon cultivars called Phoenix Series. This series, which includes other color variations such as red and magenta, was bred specifically to withstand heat and be disease resistant. The throat is bright white which offers a stark contrast to the deeply colored outer edges. The Phoenix Series grows to about 18" tall and is excellent as a border plant or in containers.
Stapleford Gem (Sour Grapes)
Bunchleaf Penstemon- Margarita BOP
Pike's Peak Purple
Enjoy a beautiful native in your garden today! Pick a Penstemon that will fit your individual gardening needs. Penstemons are a more rewarding landscaping plant than you can imagine.
Lilylover_UT - Firecracker, Meresa Yellow, and Whipple's Penstemon
Marilynbeth- Mountain Fountains
Poppysue-Rocky Mountain Penstemon and Shell leaf Penstemon
QCapen- Pike's Peak Purple Penstemon
Todd_Boland- P. cardwelli, P. davidsonii, P. ellipticus, P. serrulatus, Pinleaf Penstemon, and Dwarf Hairy Penstemon
Xenomorf- Sunset Crater
Yotedog- Eastern Gray
dicentra63- True Blue
Chiltepin1 - Gulf Coast Penstemon
Gerris2 - P. smallii
About Susanne Talbert
I garden in beautiful Colorado Springs, half a mile from Garden of the Gods. Since we bought our first house two years ago, I have been busy revamping my 1/4 acre of ignored decomposed granite.
My garden passions include water gardening, vines, super-hardy perennials, and native xerics. By day, I am a high school ceramics teacher as well as a ceramicist and painter.