Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Penstemon X

I found this guy growing in the back yard in a shady, damp place the first spring we lived at Clay and Limestone. He was growing in a beautiful stand of moss right on top of the wet weather springs. Wildflower books describe most Penstemons as loving dryer soil. He might be Penstemon digitalis, they like moist spots in woodland settings...but this flower is more purple than white. Let's call him Penstemon X for now.If you look closely you can see that the stem and flower bud have little hairs....that could be a clue to identity! (click on any photo to enlarge)


Don't you love the moss at the Penstemon base. Each spring water seeps from this spot; moss and sedges thrive in the cool wet soil. I don't know why the Penstemon is so happy, but it is. It's beautiful back there among the mosses, but it's home to mosquitoes and ticks! One day I will transplant a bit of moss to a pot and enjoy it in a shady spot in the front garden....but for now I visit to get more Penstemon; it's seems to be the perfect nursery bed.


I have transplanted him all over the garden. He seems to be happy anywhere. The photo above shows him growing in the front porch wildflower garden, in semi-shady conditions that are not at all moist! The tall brown seed head rising above the new bud is from last years bloom. The clasping leaves are typical of Penstemon, as is the basel rosette.
Hmm, I wonder what that pink flower is? Could that be the PPPP growing with the Penstemon X?

When we built the front porch all the sun loving plants were moved to this bed along the driveway. Penstemon X is happily growing out there in full sun! Perhaps, he is a Practically Perfect Penstemon!


I have been looking at three different wildflower books to identify him. Book One is Wildflowers of The Central South (T Hemmerly), my go to book for Central Basin endemics. He identifies two Penstemon, P hirsutus or P tenuiflorus.
It could be P hirsutus, but Book Two offers 3 more choices to the mix!
He is kind of hairy! But let's give the experts a try.

Book Two is-- Gardening With Native Plants of Tennessee (Margie Hunter). She writes: "There are several eastern USA species of Penstemon. Their differences are slight, which makes positive identification difficult for an amateur; even the experts disagree. " Well, we may not be able to positively identify which species of Penstemon we have growing here so let's guess!

Margie identifies 5 possible candidates....P calycocus (listed by one expert as P laevigatus), P hirsutus, P digitalis, P laevigatus (Eastern Beardtongue)...P hirsutus and P calycocus are very alike; it seems the main difference is one grows in Northern Middle Tennessee and the other is found growing throughout Middle Tennessee. Goodness gracious, with this kind of confusion among the experts what is a girl like me to do?

Before today I just said I had Beardtongue. Now that I think about it...this is exactly why I stopped trying to figure out which one I have! The problem is detail...I am not a detail person.

Here is what I have eliminated from the running.

P digitalis. It looks nothing like the flowers in Book Two or Book Three (Wildflowers of Tennessee the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians by Horn, Cathcart, Hemmerly and Duhl)...they are too white. (Husker Red is a form of P digitalis, in case you were curious or getting bored.) This guys flowers are more violet or purple.

P smallii.

P smallii, as you can see, above, just looks different, less hairy! He is also growing in the Porch wildflower garden and doesn't mind the semi-shade or dryish conditions. I like the reddish coloring at the base of the clasping leaves.

The three remaining are the almost identical, P calycocus, P laevigatus and P hirsutus. Uh oh, we almost forgot P tenuiflorus, identified in Book One! Let me assure you, the reason I forgot it was that I took it out of the running earlier and forgot to tell you. No way, no how is it P tenuiflorus....which is found in the glades and has a very different looking flower! Sorry to not let you know earlier.

It could be any of the three remaining Penstemons.......I give up!

Here is what I am going to do. The flowers of each of the three are all slightly different in size, minute differences, so when he blooms...I will take lots of photos and measure the flowers and then I will ............You do know I am kidding don't you! I will take more shots and try to identify him; living up to my amateur abilities as plant identifier and photographer!

In the meantime, here is one more shot of Penstemon X in flower...can you identify him?
I am leaning toward a Hairy Eastern Caly-Beardtongue!

Gail

18 comments:

  1. Gail, you are so funny! Glad you threw in Husker Red, that one I know. You completely lost me with that nomenclature. And you say you are not detail oriented? How much more detailed can you get? Now I understand how you know so much about the wildflowers and your soil composition, etc. You pay attention and look it up in books. I just throw stuff in the ground and hope it lives. Sometimes the plants do well in condtions that they aren't supposed to like, somebody forgot to tell them. Our penstemons do very well in the dry areas, wet is hard to come by on a slope! Hope you get your name.

    Frances

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  2. I think the hairy Eastern Caly-Beardtongue fits perfectly. :) Whatever the name, it's a lovely little fellow.

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  3. Frances,

    I write as I go and sometimes I am completely surprised by what shows up on the page. I have a bit of slope, too. The movement of water is a big deal in this garden.

    I throw stuff in the ground and hope it lives, too... even after years of failing I still buy plants I know are iffy here even after reading up on gladey conditions!

    Gail

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  4. nancy,

    I think so, too;) You will not find me in the garden with a measuring tape!

    Gail

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  5. I have no clue here, but it does look good. It's good to have a plant that adaptable!

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  6. I don't know what kind it is either. You have done a good job researching it though! I love the penstemons-so just call it penstemon X if you can't identify it and mark it down as a success.

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  7. Dave,

    That is a good way to think about it...it is very adaptable! Thanks

    gail

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  8. Tina,

    X gives it a Lana Turner flair...Lady X except I think of Penstemons as male! Maybe he is not a he but a she?


    gail

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  9. Gail, Anything with a cultivar named 'Husker Red' HAS to be male. Don't you think?

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  10. Tina,

    Hmm...good point!

    Gail

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  11. I'm not great at finding names of things, but it sure looks like a neat plant! I like the adaptable easily grown ones.

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  12. Gail, if only Elizabeth Lawrence were alive, she would help us figure out the name of this plant. Maybe it is a new species that you've discovered? Or you might check with the cooperative extension service to see if they know or know where you could send a sample to be identified.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

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  13. cinj,

    Me either! I love that it is happy everywhere.

    gail

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  14. Carol,

    She would wouldn't she! I forget about the extension services and my friends at the native plant nursery. Thanks for the reminder.

    Gail

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  15. Gail .. you are so detailed I got dizzy reading this ! LOL
    I have developed a "thing" for penstemons .. a number of Husker Red .. and a few others (names escape me now .. I'm on my way back to bed .. it is an ouch day for sure ..).. you are amazing with all your knowledge and care for these wildflowers/plants !
    I learn something new every time I read your posts .. thank you : )
    Joy

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  16. unfortunately I can't help you identify your mystery penstemon. Sounds like you've been thru an exhaustive search already. Whatever it is, it's a great one. Good luck on your quest.

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  17. joy,

    Thank you...that is the nicest compliment....you write a post and hope you actually have something of interest to say to someone!

    Take care and so glad you stopped by!

    Gail

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  18. kathleen,

    If I can't identify it I will be happy to call it Penstemon X, I rather like that name. I will see if the flowers help me identify them, it's just about bloom time!

    Thanks for stopping by,
    Gail

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Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.


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