Genus Penstemon
Figwort Family (Scrophulariaceae)

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 I have seen along the roadsides.

Utah Penstemon (Penstemon utahensis)

This plant occurs in the eastern and southern counties of Utah -- on the mesas and in the canyons of the Colorado Plateau area. The brilliant red color of the blossoms makes the plant stand out against the dry rocky soil where it grows.

Utah Penstemon (Penstemon utahensis) near Boulder, Utah

Eaton's Penstemon(Penstemon eatonii)

These plants grow about 2 feet tall, on dry hillsides. The flower blossoms hang downward from the stem. Each flower has the typical 5-lobed corolla which is common to all penstemons, but the lobes are not as pronounced as most and do not flare open at the mouth.

From a distance, this plant superficially resembles the Scarlet Gilia and the Wild Fuchsia, but on looking closer it is easy to see that they are not really similar in the shape of the flowers.

Eaton's (Firecracker) Penstemons      Eaton's Penstemons along Utah highway 24

Palmer's Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri)

Seeds of this plant have been used in re-seeding projects following road construction, so the flowers can now be seen along some of our freeways.

The plant is 2 or 3 feet tall. The blossoms are quite large and showy, with several growing along the stalk.

Palmer's Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri)      Along a frontage road near I-15

See photos of some other Penstemons


by Sandra Bray