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, 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!