Genus Penstemon
Figwort Family (Scrophulariaceae)

Wasatch Penstemon (Penstemon cyananthus)

Penstemons (Beardtongues)

The name "Penstemon" means "five stamens".
The name "Beardtongue" refers to the fact that one of the stamens is different from the rest. It is called a "staminode" and is covered with fine hairs, appearing to have a beard. This stamen does not develop any pollen itself, but probably helps to attract insects into the center of the flower where pollen from the other stamens can cover their bodies and be carried to the next flower.

There are several species of Penstemons that occur in Utah. Here are some that you might see in our northern Mountains.

The Wasatch Penstemon (Penstemon cyananthus) is very showy, having intense blue blossoms commonly growing on a stalk about 2 feet tall.

The Low Penstemon (Penstemon humilis) grows in clumps with many short flower stalks. The blossoms are smaller than those of the Wasatch Penstemon (above), and are variable in color (usually blue-purple). They can often be seen growing on dry rocky roadsides.

Low Penstemon (Penstemon humilis)

Whipple's Penstemon (Penstemon whippleanus) grows at high elevations, on alpine meadows and in aspen/conifer communities.

This species occurs in two differents colors -- some plants have dark purple blossoms, and others have very pale flowers with purple veins.

Whipple's Penstemon (Penstemon whippleanus)

Wasatch Mountains
Salt Lake County, Utah


by Sandra Bray