April 2019 – Native Plant of the Month
Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode
Pictured: Penstemon cobaea, Penstemon triflorus, Penstemon baccharifolius, Penstemon tenuis
Family: Plantaginaceae (Plantain)
The Penstemon genus features many different species of small perennial herbs with a great variety of striking flower colors and shapes. These are typically perennial plants that send out a 1-2 foot stalk when they bloom in the spring or summer, and remain a small, unimposing rosette for much of the rest of the year.
Their dense growth of trumpet-shaped flowers makes them an excellent early spring food source for hummingbirds, and a delight for all who long to be drawn out of the dull colors of winter. Many species re-seed easily, and though they are not aggressive, they can spread into large vibrant patches when allowed. Extra moisture and afternoon shade will help extend the bloom time of these fleeting flowers, but western species must have good drainage.
There are multiple Penstemons that love to grow in every ecoregion and habitat condition across Texas, from dry western canyons to eastern and gulf coast marshes and swamps. They are adapted to a wide variety of difficult Texas soil types, and one species, Penstemon triflorus, is endemic to the Edwards Plateau and its surrounding areas.
When we grow and propagate increasingly uncommon native plants like these, we help restore genetic diversity and mitigate the current fragmentation of their populations, some of which are very isolated. Thankfully, in recent years Beardtongue species have become easier to find in the nursery trade, especially at specialty native plant sales.
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