Penstemons, penstemons, pentstemons…

The first penstemons of the year are beginning to bloom in the nursery beds, with shrubby penstemon (Penstemon fruticosus) starting it off (shown above).  With another good warm day Chelan penstemon (P. pruinosus) will join the show.  This latter species has spread and naturalized across many areas of the nursery, enough so that I’m weeding it out of some spots to give other plants a chance!  Still, its floral display en masse is striking, with flowers showing pink, blue, lavender and purple, depending on the plant.  The penstemon display will run though May into June, with the blooming of showy penstemon (P. speciosus), Barrett’s penstemon (P. barrettiae), firecracker penstemon (P. eatonii) and Venus penstemon (P. venustus), among others.  The last to bloom is cutleaf or Richardson’s penstemon (P. richardsonii); its bright purplish-red flowers don’t begin until late in June and can extend well into August.  It is a rampant grower (and self-seeder!) and as long as it grows it continues to bloom and, with fewer other wildflowers found at that time, it is a big draw for native pollinators, particularly bumblebees and hummingbirds.

Penstemons will readily hybridize when they grow nearby and their bloom times overlap.  I grow most of my penstemons from seed, but I always use wild sources and don’t collect from nursery plants.  A lovely example of what can happen is seen below.

Firecracker penstemon

and Chelan penstemon 

have overlapping bloom periods and one spring I found this volunteer  coming up along side them

Disregard what I said about not saving seed from nursery penstemons.  I’m now two years into propagating and “refining” this hybrid, at present called ” Peshastin Purple”.  I’ve grown offspring from this plant’s seeds.  This next generation is then evaluated for growth form, foliage, flower color and floral form, with the aim of culling out all except those that conform to my desired type, which will then be crossed to create another generation to be subjected to further selection.  It’s fun and easy and full of promise and surprise!

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