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Easy to Love – Rocky Mountain Penstemon   arrow

Written by: Sylvia Sanchez, Colorado Master Gardener, 2011

Rocky Mountain Penstemon – Penstemon strictus

Hiking with a group on a camping trip to Lathrop State park a few years ago, I had been looking for wildflowers and I came upon a spectacular group in the early June heat.  The arid landscape was full of beautiful wildflowers but the star for me was this one with vivid purple-blue flower spikes.  It was blooming its heart out from a soil that was sand and rock!   Individual flowers were tubular with sort of little faces that have upper and lower “lips”.  I was in love!  Excited and almost at camp, I spent so much time taking photos that the rest of the group went on.  But I didn’t care…I had this thing of beauty!!

purple pinstomen plantRocky Mountain Penstemon – Penstemon strictus is my favorite Penstemon and a native to Colorado.  It grows purple-blue flowers on up to 30” spikes.  One of the easiest to grow and long lived, it also has evergreen foliage.  It is very drought tolerant and self-seeds.  Its nectar is enjoyed by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. It is also an important host plant for the checkerspot butterfly.

Penstemon are low maintenance and thrive in tough conditions that non-natives would find it hard to survive in.

They are what is called a pioneer plant or first plant.  First to colonize areas like roadsides or erosion sites.  They grow best without competition from mature nearby plants.  Commonly referred to as “beardtongue” because some of the varieties have a hairy-looking “tongue” that protrudes from the throat of the flowers.

It would be perfect in an area of your garden that has full sun.  Plant in lean well- draining soil without any amendments.  Deep but infrequent watering once it’s established. 

It will put on its show for you in mid-to late spring.  You might fall in love.

From the Ground Up, Spring 2020