Penstemon hirsutus (*)

Penstemon hirsutus  Part of the plantain family, it grows in open clusters of trumpet-shaped, purple to lavender flowers with whitish lips. The long, thin blooms have five petals with a protruding, hairy lower lip that evokes the species’ common name.  Leaves are oblong, woolly stemmed. Attracts bees and hummingbirds.

Hairy Beardtongue anyone? The Greenburg Nature Center explains:

The shape of the flowers explains why most Penstemon species are stuck with “Beardtongue” as part of their common names: Rock Beardtongue, Firecracker Beardtongue, Large-flowered Beardtongue, Rocky Mountain Beardtongue, and many others.

Penstemon flowers typically have 5 petals fused together at the top to form a nectar-rich tube. At the open end, two upper petals curve back and three lower petals reach out to provide a landing platform for pollinators. Each flower has 4 fertile stamens bearing pollen, and one infertile stamen, covered with hairy fibers, that rests on the lower lip of the flower. Presumably, that structure is what caused somebody to think of a “bearded tongue.”

Why they didn’t think of a “lady’s comb” or “baby bottle brush” instead is a mystery. The scientific name Penstemon comes from the Greek words penta meaning five and stemon meaning thread or stamen. At least that name makes sense.

SPECS: Native Name: Xxx; Genus: Penstemon; Species: Hirsutus; Plant Type: Herb; Life Cycle: Perennial; Sun Exposure: Full Sun, Part Shade; Soil Moisture: Dry, Well Drained; Height: 1′ — 2′; Spread: 2′; Plant Spacing: 1′ — 2′; Bloom Time: May — June; Bloom Color: Lavender, Purple; Advantages: Pollinators; USDA Zone: 3 — 9; Attracts: Bumblebees, Carpenter bees, Honey bees, Hummingbirds, Small black bees, Sweat bees; Tolerant: Deer; Plant Community: To extend color and textural interest in your garden, select companion plants with similar water needs. According to the Denver Botanic Garden favorites include Artemisia, Agave, Hesperaloe, yarrow, blue flax, orange milkweed, chocolate flower, Colorado four o'clock and dwarf baby blue rabbitbrush.;

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