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Friday, July 15, 2011

Penstemons a-plenty

The Berry Prairie includes four of the 11 species of Penstemon that are native to the Laramie Basin. Also known as beardtongues, many penstemons are adored by gardeners for their form and their vivid colors, which range from white through pink, red, purple and blue. Most of the Laramie Basin species are blue or purple, but P. eriantherus is pink, with exceptionally large flowers, and our P. laricifolius is the uncommon white variety.

Penstemon eriantherus - the Fuzzytongue Penstemon - is native to the Laramie
basin and is planted on the green roof.
Penstemon laricifolius is also a Laramie native. 
Watch for it in the Berry Prairie!

With about 270 species, Penstemon is the largest genus of flowering plants restricted to North America. Many beardtongues grow in very hot, dry sites, and a number of species have limited ranges. Wyoming has 40 species, two of which are endemic to the state, and ten are considered rare enough in the state to be tracked by the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database ( Our only federally-listed Endangered plant species is the blowout penstemon, P. haydenii, first collected in Carbon County in 1871 and “lost” from Wyoming until 1999.

Penstemon haydenii, the blowout penstemon, is extremely rare in Wyoming.  It's found in Nebraska and the southeast flank of the Ferris Mountains in central Wyoming.  This penstemon is not planted in the Berry Prairie. 

Photos above and below by Bonnie Heidel, WYNDD

The name beardtongue refers to the fuzzy staminode (a sterile organ) found inside the flower. Derived from a stamen, the staminode appears to enhance the efficiency of pollination by bees, by either blocking the bee’s exit from the flower, or actually pushing the bee, with her pollen load, onto the receptive pistil. 

Pollination by hummingbirds appears to have evolved multiple times in the genus. Those species are easily recognized by their bright red colors, and are valued by gardeners hoping to attract hummers. However, you won’t find any red beardtongues in the Berry Prairie, as no red species are native to the Laramie Basin.  

We're planning to install a Penstemon Garden in the alley west of the Berry Center.  More information and photos later! 

Penstemon virens blooming in front of the Berry Center on June 16, 2011

Written by Dorothy Tuthill, Associate Director of the Berry Center

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