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

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Penstemon X Revisited*


Not Penstemon X, but P smallii May 2009

It's  that time of year again. C&L's very own star penstemon is poised to bloom!

 We still can't, to our satisfaction,  give him a definitive id!   Experts have been perplexed, even a learned institution, like The Lady Bird Johnson Center,  has this on their site: "The Beard Tongues are a very large group, and taxonomically so complex that separating the species is often difficult." 

It is good to be in such esteemed and learned confusion!

So, hoping to get help from the federal government,  I headed over to the  USDA website. They have a wonderful page on penstemons. Did you know, that penstemons grow in every state in the US and in almost all of Canada? It's true...it also appears that the western states have far more then their fair share of this delightful plant group!

I found this penstemon  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 a wet weather springs.   (It's kind of a seep...that's wet and squishy all winter and somewhat damp in the summers.)  I loved the

May 8, 2008

lilac and white flowers immediately and 


a small colony of Penstemon X left of the phlox
 transplanted him around the garden.  He spread and multiplied beautifully.  

The more interested I became in wildflowers, the more important it became to  be able to identify him.  It was a matter of pride! 

The more I read, the more confusing it became!   Even the experts had trouble telling them apart!  There was one puzzling characteristic...this penstemon didn't mind having wet feet half the year!  Wildflower books describe most penstemons as disliking wet feet.  It seemed logical that any identification would include a tolerance for damp!    There seemed to be only  one penstemon in Tennessee that tolerated wet feet...P digitalis.  The parent of Husker Red.  They like moist spots in woodland settings.  But,  its flower doesn't look like this penstemon...Their flowers are white...This beard tongue has lilac colored  flowers.  

So, last year, I named it  Penstemon X.   


Penstemon X  May 2009

It's a fun name  for a great plant!


May 2008

I love this beard tongue...He grows where ever I plant him!


...and I have transplanted him all over the garden and into several gardens around Nashville!  He seems  happy  growing 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 year's bloom. The clasping leaves are typical of Penstemon, as is the basal rosette.

Penstemon X in the Garden of Benign Neglect

The Garden  formerly known as the Garden  of Benign Neglect is blanketed with Penstemon X.  The bloom time overlaps the long bloom of Phlox pilosa.  If you click on the above photo you can see the penstemon among the phlox.   It will be an even 'louder'  cacophony of pinks and lilacs any day.  Penstemon X is also planted in the Susans' Garden, where he thrives in  even sunnier  conditions.  Last year, I thought of naming him a runner up in  the Practically Perfect Plant Playoffs.   I'll let you know if he is a contender this year!!


penstemon ready to bloom  with wildflowers like  Western Daisy and Columbine

When I got to this point last year...there were three possible penstemons left out of  the five  that  could match our beard tongue!   This spring, I've eliminated another one!     I purchased P calycosus and I can assure you that he is not Penstemon X...

Not Penstamon X

The two remaining were the almost identical, P laevigatus/Eastern Beard Tongue  and 
P hirsutus/Hairy Beard Tongue.

Here is what I am going to do. The flowers of each are all slightly different in size,  witha few  minute differences. 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  are  more shots  of Penstemon X in flower last year!
His perfect corolla is designed so that a fat bee can snuggle right up inside it....picking up pollen as he moves from flower to flower... insuring that seeds will be produced and C&L will have more of these delightful (and possibly)  practically perfect plants to share with others.

Penstemon X or  Hairy Eastern Beardtongue? You decide! 

Gail
I wish you all a marvelous and joy filled day...

61 comments:

  1. I really like the penstemons. I had no idea they grow in every single state! That is pretty neat. I have a mystery plant growing in a bed out back, I am thinking a weed but now with your great identification of traits maybe it is penstemon? Beginning to bloom too. I could see the louder pink with the PPPP. It's very pretty and I still think Penstemon X is a perfect name.

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  2. Hi Gail, I got sucked into looking for a wildflower that I thought might be your mystery plant....and almost an hour later, still didn't find it, but I had a great time looking at over 33 pages of native/ wildflowers. Oh so easily distracted. I say, enjoy the plant and call it whatever you want. :-D

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  3. Gail,
    We have Penstemon coming up in our garden this year and I don't even remember planting it. I didn't even know what is was until my friend Carol told me. :-)--Randy

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  4. Very interesting, Gail! I had a monster of a plant in my perennial bed. That penstemon got so big, I needed to replant it, since it was taking over the bed! As you say, it grows everywhere. But mine wouldn't bloom anywhere, it certainly needs a lot of sun! Good luck in your search for its identity!

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  5. Gail, I like the X factor. I also like the fact that one can be amongst the "learned confused". That certainly got a giggle from me. Always good to be in such company. I don't have a penstemon in my garden. It is sorely lacking I see.

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  6. Hmm...the mystery continues! Whatever it may be it sure is a nice one! That would be neat if it were the parent of my friend Husker. With as much diversity as there is among Penstemons, perhaps yours is a new variety?

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  7. Lisa, I love being among the learned confused, too! I am often confused and occasional learned! Please let me send you Penstemon X!

    Gail

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  8. Dave, My friend the garden coach says it's P smallii, but I don't think so!
    Next time I go to Growild I'll take him with me! Do you perhaps want a few?

    GFail

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  9. Tina, Is it near PPPP, I did give you some didn't I? The seeds might have been there. I can did up a bit when you visit! I so wanted it to be sunny today!

    Gail

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  10. Janet,
    We call that falling into the rabbit hole! But it's so much fun! I manage to do that all the time!

    Gail

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  11. Randy, They are something else! I wonder how your penstemon found its way to your lovely garden...another mystery! Can't wait for you to show us the blooms.

    Gail

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  12. Tatyana, Yep hey can get pretty big and my wildflower book suggests diving it every other year! This one blooms everywhere, but the biggest blooms are in the sunnier beds. They expand and seed...which is why I have so much of it! They are prolific.

    Gail

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  13. How lovely! I wasn't sure until the photo by the phlox, but I do believe I've seen these many times in our area, though more commonly in a pale yellow-creamy coloured bloom? Those little bell or trumpet shapes are sweet. I'll try to get some photos this summer -- I recognized the seed pods, too. :)

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  14. Nancy, I would love to see them! They are a large family of plants! Now I am curious as to which ones you have! Must not willingly jump down the rabbit hole this morning!

    Gail

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  15. Penstemon X indeed. Quite a puzzle! In some ways it looks like the P. smallii that I got from the NCBG, but that doesn't like wet feet at all. Gulf Coast Penstemon likes wet feet, but your Penstemon doesn't look like P. tenuis at all. I haven't grown Eastern Hairy Beardtongue so no help there. Whatever Penstemon X is it's a winner! Good luck with this lovely mystery.

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  16. Hi Gail, I absolutely love the close up with all those tiny hairs looking like a silvery aura. Very ethereal;)

    There aren't a lot of good photos online to help ID yours. Good luck.
    Your garden is beautiful. You've done a great job there.
    Marnie

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  17. Sweetbay, It may be a more vigorous P smallii...but for now I can live with Penstamon X! Thanks for trying to id it! gail

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  18. Marnie, It's not an easy flower to photograph! Some of them are so difficult to get a good clear shot...but thanks for trying to id it! It's fun isn't it! It's a hairy plant for sure! gail

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  19. I too love your Penstemon X... it is indeed a huge species. I have trouble using dichotomous keys... was stumped using Newcomb's this morning trying to ID a flowering tree in my yard (see post). The frustrating thing for me is, I see these trees in many nature areas, so they're obviously common, and yet I have no clue. Eh yep!

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  20. I love Penstemons too. That is a beautiful one!
    I had a beautiful purple one and I think somehow it did not get enough water and it died. I thought it was getting watered but when I went to remove the dead plant it was dry as a bone under it. I felt terrible.)-: I do have a few other colors though.

    CiNdEeS' GaRdEn

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  21. Penstemons are one more plant I don't have in my garden! I have been looking at these in catalogs and books for some time...I'm just going to have to dig up more of the yard for all the plants I want to have!

    It's amazing to me when people can identify the different cultivars of a particular plant; all your hard work and research just proves that it isn't that easy. Maybe this is a new variety...you could call it "Penstemon Gail":) By the way, I do hope you don't change the name of the Garden of Benign Neglect, even if it is no longer neglected. That has to be my favorite garden name of all:)

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  22. Rose...I am so thrilled you like the name...I'm not going to change it! I just can't...it's a good name and it really fits my style. Once the heat, humidity and mosquitoes arrive...it will be pretty much left on its own again!

    If I can get a few plants in the suitcase you'll have these sweeties...and the PPPP!

    Gail

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  23. Monica, It's an immense species...there is a website for propagating them and it has an a to z listing! It will be Penstomen X no matter its id!

    Gail

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  24. Hi Gail, hmmm. I am going with the digitalis ID. I have lots of self sown babies of Husker that have flowers that look exactly like that, only the foliage is redder in some, but not all. I had blamed it on the crossing of other penstemons, sour grapes and red rocks that were nearby. Maybe it just reverted to the parent in flower color but kept the red leaves? Sounds like a winner no matter the name. I kind of like X, being a fan of the old tv show about filing with that name. Ever the organizer. :-)
    Frances

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  25. Cindee, There are dozens of California species that don't need quite as much water. I know that drought is an issue for you...I hope you can find one that is happy in your garden, I would send you X but...not sure that is a good idea! But the bees and the hummers like penstemons. gail

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  26. Oh... DUH. WHY am I deadheading my pretty orange penstemon every year, simply out of habit? Seeing your reseeders spreading out so cheerfully was like a bit smack in the forehead... I am SO leaving my penstemon to reseed this year instead!

    (I have one of the drought-tolerant western penstemons. I don't think it's p. eatonii, because I think that the one I bought had a person's name in the cultivar name, but that's the only orange-flowering one that I can find that looks close on the High Country Gardens site right now: http://www.highcountrygardens.com/catalog/product/75735/)

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  27. Your penstemon X is a very pretty one for sure! I know there are native penstemon here in the PNW which sort of surprised me because I thought they liked more hot and dry weather. I mostly have pink ones in my garden but would love to find some in the blue or purple color range.
    Good luck with your id!

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  28. Frances, X it is! I love X...care for a few! I have very few named penstemons...must remedy that...Do you have any suggestions?

    Gail

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  29. Kim, I think we do deadheading out of habit! Sometimes I think it will encourage rebloom and just grab those pruners! An orange penstemon sounds delicious...must find one...The sharp drainage is the kicker here...clay soil does not drain nicely. I am heading over to High Country to see what they have...Are you interested in a start of X? gail

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  30. Catherine, Pink sounds perfect. If I am able to save seeds I can send you some...I know there is probably a page of instructions but since these seed so nicely on their own...scattering might work. Or I can did up a small plant and mail it to you...let me know. gail

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  31. Oh what fun you're having Gail and well done you on getting so close to nailing your ID. I'm sure you will after this season's blooms :)

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  32. VP, Hi...it is fun to try to id a plant...it's an activity that I would never have enjoyed as a younger gardener! I have a photo of a Nashville Roundabout interested in seeing it? gail

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  33. I see that Sweet Bay doesn't think your Penstemon X looks like P. tenuis, but the foliage is certainly similar to what I'm used to. The blooms on X don't seem to be as uniformly lavender/purple as my Gulf Coast Penstemon, though. Whichever it is, it's lovely!

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  34. Hi again. I just bought some P. barbatus 'Pina Colada series' at, wait for it.....Walmart. I buy any Penstemon whenever I see them. They all do great here, even though they are not supposed to.
    :-)

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  35. My dear Gail....I am going to have to stop visiting your blog....everytime I pop over you tease me with yet another bloom. A beautiful bloom is Miss X......and my favourite colour to...

    I know the frustration of being unable to identify a bloom....I have several in my garden and it becomes obsessive......

    I am sure one say this little beauty will be identified.......

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  36. Frances, What a temptation! Your Big Box Stores have much better plants then ours! Sigh! I looked it up...it is a cutie pie...any others you recommend? i've been visiting High Country gardens but their plants would be so unhappy here! Maybe Sunlight or PDN have a few!

    gail

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  37. Great post Gail. Well I have several X:s in my garden too. Penstemon X cute name and lovely flower.

    Take Care/ Tyra

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  38. I bet the bee knows exactly which Penstemon it is!
    Good luck with the identification - it can descend into madness - I know from experience (lol)

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  39. What a fun name for your X! It is such a lovely and pretty flower!

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  40. How lucky you are to have a seep! You can grow such interesting things in one, such as your beautiful mystery Penstemon.

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  41. What a beautiful plant! Reminds me of my foxglove in its way. Ah, so many plants. So little time!
    Brenda

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  42. Very cute little fellow. He does look right at home.
    Sure wish I had more room.

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  43. Oh, geez, can you just send me a division of Penstemon X? It looks like a great plant!

    A lovely post, thanks.
    Lisa

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  44. I have quite a few bearded tongue's too. It spreads easily and seems to thrive wherever it is. Flowers nicely for me each spring.

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  45. Hi Gail ~ I came over to relax after a long day and catch up and now you have me combing my books ... I see maybe 2 ... Foxglove Penstemon (Penstemon cobaea) and Palmer's Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) that has narrow leaves and loves rocky soil & P. virgatus is similar. I'm going to bed (yawn) calling it 'X' ... and, as always, loving my visit :)

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  46. IKW, I can and will...just email your info! gail

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  47. I would have given up long ago. It's all so pretty. I have a terrible time with names. I need talking plants who will remind me who they are. But you like research and part of the chase is in the journey and challenge. Right?

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  48. I agree with flowergardengirl, why don't these plants speak up and introduce themselves? It's always a fun and informative visit to your blog.

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  49. Beautiful, whatever the name. I have never seen a lilac one before-just gorgeous. I don't transplant mine, they just reseed themselves wherever. I like a plant that does that. I am always surprised by their choice of spots.

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  50. Good morning Gail, Penstemon X is lovely, and probably poised to become as famous as PPPP in the blogosphere! I have Huskers Red - wish it kept that beautiful foliage color all season!

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  51. Your Penstemon X is a beauty Gail. Wish I could help you with the id on this wonderful native perennial. Last spring I added my first native which is 'Smooth Beardtongue' a white flowering variety. The foliage is evergreen and it has tripled in size this spring with tons of buds forming. This spring I added 'Gray Beardtongue' which has beautiful burgundy/dark green foliage and violet pink blooms that I haven't seen yet.

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  52. I love the Penstemons too. I can't tell you how many I have, but I don't have yours. I do have one that's sort of similar, but I'm sure it's not Penstemon X. :) Have you seen the 'Dark Towers' Penstemon? Very, very lovely, even if it isn't native. I found one at the nursery this year, and snapped it up. It went where a bad rose formerly lived.~~Dee

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  53. I don't know what it is, but I like it. What a great garden you have.

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  54. Such a long post dedicated to this charming wee "Penstemon X." with such a long name! Love it's form and color!

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  55. Gail, what a fabulous photographer you are becoming ~ I must tell you that first. Maybe because the subject matter is so good but I'd prefer to think it's your skills. :-) I am another penstemon fan among many it seems. I only have three or four varieties in my garden but would buy more if I could find them. I just purchased "whippleanus" which I'm very excited about and also sprinkled seeds for "Palmer" penstemons in the garden this spring. I hope some germinate. Mine do not seem to be picky at all about moisture. They take it or leave it and perform great either way. How can you not love that? Good luck id'ing your mystery penstemon. No matter what his/her name is, it's a keeper.

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  56. Kathleen, There are so many more varieties of penstemon that a high country gardener can grow...They would be miserable here. I can't wait to see your new ones as they grow and thrive! The tulips are outstanding in your recent post! What is the name of that delicious salmon colored beauty! Thank you...I do think that I can occasionally capture a macro shot...it's composition that eludes me!

    Gail

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  57. they look like hummingbirds would like them.

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  58. Hey - plants do speak up and identify themselves! We're just not usually very adept at their language; if we give them names they don't understand, is it their fault they don't remember them?

    An incredibly beautiful penstemon and it's an eye-opener to read how many there are. I knew there were a lot of penstemons, but not that many (and I didn't know that there were any that like wet feet). Is it possible that yours is a wild hybrid of some sort? Something new (at least to humans)?

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  59. Great post and I love the trillium pics!
    Plant Lady

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  60. Gail,

    I am new to your blog and so am reading "older posts". I too garden in limestone and clay in southwest Ohio. Our zone is a bit colder than yours -- 5/6-- but the soil is just as challenging.

    We are building a dry creek bed in our back yard and I just loved the fish sculpture in yours. Can you tell me where you got it?

    And I LOVE your blog. Your attitude about gardening -- lighthearted, yet serious -- and your lovely photos.

    Toni

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  61. Having just gotten my hairy beardtongue to bloom for the first time this year, I don't think that's what you have. Mine is fuzzier than yours. The stems are so fuzzy they look silver. The flowers are so fuzzy they are actually hard to get a good picture of because of the way the fuzz reflects the light. The flowers are a lovely lavender, a bit darker than yours, and with a distinct bright orange/yellow spot inside the bottom lip that yours doesn't have. I think I've figured out why it's endangered here in MA, though... The rabbits LOVE it. I'm down to one flowering stalk. The others have all been chomped. :D Maybe yours is a cross. I think I remember that this one hybridizes readily, and that's one of the other reasons it's endangered here in MA. Merry gardening! Penstemon X gets my vote! A mystery!

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