June Plant of the Month: Penstemon strictus
Every year, I look forward to seeing the confident purple spikes of Rocky Mountain beardtongue (Penstemon strictus) in our gardens at the Butterfly Pavilion. They emerge in the sunnier spots of our Wildlife Berm and Discovery Garden in the beginning of the month, just in time to attract brawny bumblebees and the odd broad-tailed hummingbird passing through.
Rocky Mountain beardtongue’s native range extends from southern Wyoming and Utah to northern New Mexico and Arizona. This smooth-stemmed perennial reaches 2 ½ feet in height or more and has spoon-shaped basal leaves. In early summer, the plant produces multiple spires of tubular, deep blue flowers, which attract many different pollinators. Penstemons thrive in full sun, good drainage and low water, but they seem to come back year after year, even when garden conditions aren’t ideal. A small plant, after a few years, will grow into a respectable clump, while pickier plants fade away. This very hardy plant survives in USDA zones 3 through 8. Who knew that such beauty sprang from such toughness?
The only quibble I have with this regional native is the brevity of its showy blossoms. I wouldn’t mind gazing upon the flowers all summer, but, alas, by the time July arrives, the garden staff and volunteers have cut the dead flowering stalks all the way to the base. Sometimes, we can coax a few more scattered flower spikes, but most years, we must be content with other plants until next June.
Posted by Amy Yarger