Fuzzy-tongue Penstemon (Penstemon eriantherus v. argillosus)
These fuzzy-tongue penstemon, display amazing markings to guide pollinators to their nectar.
Despite recently stumbling upon what seems to be the definitive reference guide, Northwest Penstemons, 80 species of Penstemon Native to the Pacific Northwest by Dee Springer, we still struggled to identify these and other penstemons.
The book did school us a bit in botanical nomenclature (and we stumbled across this cool 1880s German hand-colored illustration of the snapdragon family, see left). The distinguishing feature of the penstemon genus is the hairy (pubescent) non-fertile male stamen (staminode), the longer, bottom-most stem protruding (exserted) from the throat (orifice) of the flower (corolla). The particularly long staminode of the fuzzy-tongue penstemon is especially noticeable, and may have been the originator of the common name ‘beardtongue’ for flowers in this genus. The true stamen(s), which are smooth (glabrous), protrude slightly above the stamenode, and end with paired pollen sacs (anthers) which rupture and split when mature (as in our photos). A third protruding stem, if visible, is the female pistil or stigma that extends from the ovary nestled in the base of the corolla cupped by the green petals (sepals) that connect the flower to stem (pedicel) and eventually to the plant’s main stalk. The hairy staminode pushes a nectar-seeking insect against the pollen-covered anthers, dusting it with pollen, and also in contact with the female stigma where it can deposit pollen from prior flowers it has visited. And so it goes…
Apparently penstemons constitute the largest genus of flowering plants native to North America, and are still actively hybridizing. In fact, penstemon was at one time considered for the national flower of the United States, but that honor officially went to the rose in 1985. We will continue to try to identify and post the most prevalent northwest penstemons from our journeys.