Penstemon plants, 2007-2009

February 25, 2010


Comments added Feb 21, 2013:

Sorry for the disorganization of this post.  I initially published it Feb 25, 2010; then added comments Aug 31, 2011; and now am adding additional comments Feb 21, 2013.  One aspect of this post needs to be corrected now.

My photo shown before in this post of early June 2007 “P. leonardii var. leonardii” in the Wasatch Mtns was mistaken.  I’m certain now that that’s P. humilis.  I first photographed P. leonardii var. leonardii (in flower) in Aug 2010, and was not certain of this until recently.  (Photos of the somewhat similar P. leonardii var. leonardii, P. watsonii & P. rydbergii appear in my Feb 24, 2013 post of bluish-flowered taller Penstemons I photographed across 2010-2012.)

P. leonardii var. leonardii and P. humilis seem now fairly easy for me to differentiate.  The former lacks the yellow-orange staminode (“beardtongue”) in the flower that P. humilis always possesses; it lacks the dark purplish guidelines inside the flower that P. humilis routinely possesses; and its leaves, including those most basal, are narrower & longer than those of P. humilis.  P. humilis is shorter-stemmed, with smaller flowers, and occurs at lower elevations.  But P. humilis can occur in a fairly broad span of habitat types, and can appear variable in some respects.

So, I’ve now fixed that early June 2007 P. humilis photo’s caption–and some related comments in the text among the photos below.  There are still “11 species” of Penstemon presented among this post’s photos, but there’s only one variant of P. leonardii here (not two)–P. leonardii var. patricus.

So, I’ll list the 11 taxa shown in this post:

leonardi var. patricus


Comments added Aug 31, 2011:

In retrospect, I have some doubt about my identification of P. subglaber, below.  The person I was with when we saw those plants was more knowledgeable than I, and deemed them subglaber; but I now feel less certain.  True subglaber should be quite similar to cyananthus, I think.

Also, as time has passed since this post I feel less certain of my ability to distinguish P. humilis from P. leonardii var. leonardii.

If anyone can comment on these points, please do.  More field observations have taught me that within-species morphological diversity can be greater than I had earlier presumed.  At some point I hope to be able to confidently distinguish these four rather similar forms: leonardii var. leonardii vs. humilis vs. watsonii vs. rydbergii.  Still, I do remain certain of all other species assignments below.  At some point I will make another post of more Penstemon photos, but that may be far away.


Initial post, Feb 25, 2010:

According to current taxonomy, the geunus Penstemon contains 66 different species (some of which include multiple variants or subspecies) that occur within the state of Utah.

I did not include photos of Penstemon species in my previous “new plant species” posts, because I saved these photos from 2007-2009 for one post devoted to this genus.  Similarly, some of my anticipated upcoming posts will also cover plant categories for which I have stockpiled photos that were left out of my previous posts.  Those posts will be devoted to the genus Tetradymia (horsebrushes), the genus Physaria (bladderpods), and the genus Asclepias (milkweeds).

Here are some photos of 11 Penstemon species (the first of which includes two recognized variants) that I have learned to recognize and have photographed in flower.


mid June 07, Penstemon leonardii var. patricus, House Range, Millard Co, UT

When I saw these during my summertime fieldwork with Red Butte’s conservation program, I brought back vouchers in peak flower and showed my supervisor Greg.  Although he was familiar with the eastern variant of this species (var. leonardii) that is common in the Wasatch Mtns, this Penstemon was so different, with its larger, lighter-colored more lavender flowers, he did not recognize it as being the same species.  I spent the time keying this out in Welsh et al., and concluded it was P. leonardii var. patricus, after squinting at the morphology of the anthers.  In the House Range here it grows at about 6,700-7,100 ft elevation, in pinion-juniper habitat, in both limestone and granite substrate.


early July 09, Penstemon leonardii var. patricus, Deep Creek Mtns, Tooele Co, UT

This is more of the same variant shown above, this time from the next mountain range to the west, the Deep Creeks.  Supposedly these are the only two Utah ranges in which this P. leonardii variant occurs.  There was a clear tendency for the var. patricus plants in the Deep Creeks to be shorter, with fewer and smaller flowers than in the House.  That difference could be due to different years’ weather, or other factors–or maybe it is genetic?

In both the House and the Deep Creeks, most places I have seen P. leonardii var. patricus I have seen two other Penstemon species nearby–P. eatonii and P. humilis.  In the House there is a spot where the most of the P. eatonii seed bracts are infested with black beetles but the other two species’ are not.

Welsh et al. claims P. leonardii that occurs in Millard County’s Canyon Mtns is intermediate between var. leonardii and var. patricus.  So far I’ve seen no P. leonardii in that range, so cannot comment on that.


early June 07, Penstemon humilis, Wasatch Mtns, Salt Lake Co, UT

early June 07, Penstemon humilis, Wasatch Mtns, Salt Lake Co, UT

The trees in the photo’s background are Cercocarpus ledifolius–curlleaf mtn mahogany, in whose shade this Penstemon grows.  Other species nearby here at ~7,250 ft are Quercus gambelii, Mahonia repens, and Cirsium sp.

Initially when I published this post I believed this was P. leonardii var. leonardii.  As I pointed out in this post’s supplementary comments, added at its top on Feb 21, 2013, I’ve later realized this is P. humilis–growing taller than usual here in this wetter & shadier spot than usual for most of the P. humilis I’ve seen.


late June 07, Penstemon palmeri, Pine Valley Mtns, Washington Co, UT

Prior to 2007, I think I could recognize this species and P. eatonii, but no other Penstemon species.  P. palmeri has been seeded along Utah’s paved and dirt roads in places far north of its original range–such as in the Oquirrh Mtns.  But, native P. palmeri such as this photo also occur sprinkled in pinion-juniper habitat almost a mile from any road.


late June 07, Penstemon rostriflorus, Pine Valley Mtns, Washington Co, UT

This photo turned out nicely, before I knew what species this is.  In Utah’s Iron and Washington Counties, I have seen this species continuing to bloom through at least mid-August, which is later than most other Penstemon species.


late July 09, Penstemon rostriflorus, Mineral Mtns, Beaver Co, UT

Here, P. rostriflorus grows near a small spring in pinion-juniper habitat, right alongside Mimulus guttatus (seep monkeyflower).   Most places P. rostriflorus occurs are not right near water.


mid July 07, Penstemon subglaber, Uinta Mtns, Duchesne Co, UT

I have only seen this species once, here at ~8,7oo ft elevation in the Unita Mtns.  Here it grows near Pseudotsuga menziesii, Linim kingii, Chaenactis sp., and two other Penstemon species–eatonii and pachyphyllus.


mid July 07, Penstemon montanus, Uinta Mtns, Duchesne Co, UT

Notice the serrated leaves.  On a different visit to the Uintas, we came across three small patches of this Penstemon, growing out of rocks on a steep slope, along a dirt road near Picea engelmannii, near 9,500 ft elevation.

Penstemon whippleanus flowers at the same time and grows along the same slope, not far away, in an area a bit higher, wetter, flatter and less rocky.  Unfortunately I did not bother to photograph P. whippleanus during this visit, and have not seen it since–and its plants I saw here were of the striking dark purple-flowered version, with flowers so dark they are more black than purple.


mid May 08, Penstemon confusus, South Snake Range foothills, White Pine Co, NV

Finally in 2009 I figured out what this Penstemon species is.  I have seen it in pinion-juniper habitat at least four sites in Utah’s Iron and Beaver Counties, but at those places I have never seen it in flower.  This species finishes flowering early.  Once, here in eastern Nevada, I snapped a photo of it flowering in May.  I think a noteworthy characteristic of this species, evident in this photo, is its pinkish/reddish edge of the leaves; but none of the species descriptions I have read mention that characteristic that seems to separate it from other Penstemons.


late July 09, Penstemon confusus, Mineral Mtns, Beaver Co, UT

Most of the time I have seen P. confusus, it looks similar to the photo above.  This species tends to have taller flower stalks when it grows in partial shade, and shorter stalks in greater sun.  P. confusus has fewer but larger seeds than those of other Penstemon species I have examined.


mid June 08, Penstemon cyananthus, Wasatch Mtns, Salt Lake Co, UT

Here in the Wasatch Mtns, P. cyananthus grows amid Quercus gambelii.  Actually, at this site there is a broad slope of low-growing Quercus gambelii that the P. cyananthus occurs within and protrudes above.


early July 08, Penstemon platyphyllus, Wasatch Mtns, Salt Lake Co, UT

At six of the seven sites I have seen P. platyphyllus, I have also seen P. cyananthus nearby.  In the Wasatch, both of these species grow at elevations a bit lower than P. leonardii var. leonardii.


late May 09, Penstemon humilis, Sheeprock Mtns, Tooele Co, UT

When in flower, the easy difference between P. leonardii var. leonardii and P. humilis is P. humils flowers have a gold-bearded staminode (visible in this photo) that P. leonardii lacks.   Here, P. humilis grows near P. cyananthus.


mid Sept 07, Penstemon humilis, Sheeprock Mtns, Tooele Co, UT

Most of the time I have noticed P. humilis it has been past flowering and has looked something like this, and I have not been certain it was not P. leonardii var. leonardii.  But this was near the site of my photo above of the late May 2009 flowering P. humilis, so I am pretty sure it is P. humilis.


Penstemon dolius, Deep Creeks' NE foothills

early July 09, Penstemon dolius, NE foothills of Deep Creek Mtns, Tooele Co, UT

Finding this species was a surprise.  I only found a two plants, and only this one flower, growing in pinion-juniper-big sagebrush habitat around 5,900 ft elevation.  This species’ leaves seem a surprisingly good mimic of those of a Cryptantha sp. that is common here.


early July 09, Penstemon eatonii, Deep Creek Mtns, Tooele Co, UT

After years of poor photos, I finally obtained decent photos of this very wide-ranging species.  These grow around 6,600 ft elevation in a dry wash.


early July 09, Penstemon eatonii, Deep Creek Mtns, Tooele Co, UT

I took other photos of P. eatonii at this site, and include this additional one that turned out well.  Notice some of last year’s brown P. eatonii flower stalks, in this photo’s background.


Here I will list six other Penstemon species am sure I have seen:

Seen when not in flower:

P. carnosus – Emery Co, UT

P. fremontii – Duchesne Co, UT

P. pachyphyllus – Duchesne Co, UT

Seen in flower but not photographed:

P. rydbergii – Wasatch Co, UT

P. utahensis – Grand Co, UT

P. whippleanus – Duchesne Co, UT

Maybe I can come up with photos of some of these species and post them in the future?

One Response to “Penstemon plants, 2007-2009”

  1. Ben Grady said

    It looks like your unidentified #2 is definitely Eriogonum brevicaule, probably variety desertorum, if from that part of Utah. The brevicaule group is especially tricky to ID, even for Eriogonum. Nice photos!

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