Owens Valley Penstemon – Penstemon confusus
The western United States is lousy with penstemons. Idaho alone claims at least 43 native Penstemon species. Neighboring states claim similar numbers. It is hard to think of the West without them, which is why Idaho Botanical Garden has made it a point to showcase as many of these plants as we can get our hands on. We currently have around 60 different penstemon taxa (including varieties, subspecies, and cultivars) distributed throughout our gardens. In fact, a small handful of these penstemons are part of a nationally accredited collection through American Public Garden Association’s Plant Collection Network.
Penstemons are a diverse genus of around 250 species. The flowers in this genus have two main things in common – a familiar tubular shape and a protruding hairy staminode (which earns them the common name “beardtounge”). Otherwise their flowers demonstrate great diversity in size, color, and shape. The size of the plant also varies greatly from species to species, from medium sized woody shrubs to delicate individuals that reach just a few inches off the ground. The foliage can be glossy green, broad, and somewhat succulent-like or narrow, serrated, almost feathery, and anywhere in between.
The newest addition to our nationally accredited collection is Penstemon confusus. It was collected in Millard County, Utah just west of the Wah Wah Mountains. It is a small plant, reaching about a foot tall. It has gray-green leaves and pale purple to pink flowers. It was given the latin name “confusus” because it can be easily confused with other species, including Penstemon utahensis.
Penstemons are now beginning to bloom at Idaho Botanical Garden. Many only bloom in late spring, with some continuing into early summer. Others bloom throughout the summer. Visit often, and don’t miss your chance to see some of these spectacular species in full bloom. They truly are botanical stars of the West.
Written by IBG horticulturist, Daniel Murphy.