Is there anything lovelier than the deep bluish-purple of penstemon blossoms echoing the azure of the sky on a summer’s day?
Penstemons come in an array of colors, from deep blue to all shades of purple to yellow to white. We have 36 species in Montana, though many of those are found in just a few specialized places. Penstemons are part of the plantain family, and all species’ flowers have five petals fused into a tube, with two petals flaring above and three beneath, pursed as though for a kiss. Many have hairy lower petals and “throats” – the reason for their other common name, beardtongue.
In western Montana, small-flowered penstemon (Penstemon procerus), Wilcox’s penstemon (Penstemon wilcoxii), and fuzzytongue penstemon (Penstemon eriantherus) are our most common species – the first two are taller plants with deep blue-purple blossoms, and the latter is a shorter plant with larger, pale-purple flowers.