Penstemon albidus

Submitted by Lori S. on Wed, 06/16/2010 - 20:25

A long drive across the prairies last weekend was enlivened a bit for me as I stopped to look at some roadside plants... here is white beard-tongue, Penstemon albidus, a little colony in bloom, in west-central Saskatchewan.
The glandular nature (i.e. having glands that exude a sticky or oily substance) of the inflorescence is made clear by all the tiny bugs and little bits of what-not stuck to it, visible in some of the photos!

1 - 3) Overall plant
4) Basal rosette showing oblong to spatulate, petioled lower leaves (re. Moss & Packer, Flora of Alberta)
5) Flower close-up
6) Part of the grove, growing in a rather sandy area.

Here is the range map from the USDA Plants site. (Bear in mind that this site uses political boundaries, rather than actual ranges that would be based on observation and might be linked to specific habitats or climatic zones. In other words, if the plant occurs anywhere in Alberta or any state, it will be shown as though it occurs everywhere within Alberta or within that particular state, which may not be the case. It is an excellent resource, nonetheless, though.)


Submitted by Mark McD on Wed, 06/16/2010 - 21:10

Lori, thanks for sharing this one, a learning experience to be sure, and a most unusual and lovely Penstemon!  Do you know if anyone is cultivating this species?  The USDA range map is most unusual, I believe it is the first time I've seen a plant range that is quite "squarely down the middle of the North American continent".  This one looks small enough to grow in a trough.  Now Lori, we may be looking to you to introduce this fine native :D  Did you try cuttings?  That's what I would've tried, if there were any non-flowering side shoots, as you were obviously too early for seed.

Submitted by Lori S. on Wed, 06/16/2010 - 21:25

Thanks, Mark!
Well, I'm cultivating it, for one.  ;)  Or will be... I have a batch of seedlings, waiting to be planted out, if the rain ever lets up.  
I got seeds from the last NARGS seedex (hope that they are true!), and I see that it's also offered by Alplains, from seeds collected in Colorado.

I think I have been beaten to the punch long ago re. introducing it!  ;D  No, taking cuttings never even occurred to me...

Submitted by Hoy on Thu, 06/17/2010 - 00:22

Skulski wrote:

Thanks, Mark!
Well, I'm cultivating it, for one.  ;)  Or will be... I have a batch of seedlings, waiting to be planted out, if the rain ever lets up.  
I got seeds from the last NARGS seedex (hope that they are true!), and I see that it's also offered by Alplains, from seeds collected in Colorado.

Please, can't you send me some rain?! Here it is less rain than usual and the farmers are getting worried. No precipitation for the next 10 days either. I have to water my plants every other day. Lots of sun but rather cold air.

Penstemon is a very exciting genus. I have grown several species but it is many more to try!

Submitted by Lori S. on Thu, 06/17/2010 - 21:24

If only it was possible, Trond!  Well, it is usually rainy in June here, and it is fine in our yard, as it drains well.  (I'm getting anxious to get out in the sun though!) 
However, there has been huge amounts of rain to the east on the prairies - big delays in seeding of crops and flooding in some areas.

Yes, penstemons are fascinating!  Such a vast number of garden-worthy species to try! 

Submitted by Hoy on Fri, 06/18/2010 - 14:59

I don't know if it was you, Lori, but we got some raindrops last night and I don't need to water for the next couple of days! The bad thing is that it was accompanied with strong northerly wind that do some damage to the plants.

Submitted by Weiser on Tue, 07/13/2010 - 08:48

I grew this plant many years ago in North Dakota. It is a nice short compact species. It is found growing on sandy loam soils in the short grass prairie settings. I always associate it with Blue gamma (Bouteloua gracilis) turf.

Submitted by penstemon on Thu, 07/15/2010 - 10:29

Both P. albidus and P. ambiguus are lawn-mower-tolerant. (I don't know what this has to do with anything.) There used to be a beautiful albidus in the parking lot where I worked; it bloomed, was mowed down, and just came back the next year.
Strictus too, now that I think of it.

Submitted by Weiser on Thu, 07/15/2010 - 12:12

I think they probably evolved this ability, as a survival strategy to compensate for the grazing pressures from the Bison herds on the Great Plains.

Submitted by penstemon on Sun, 07/18/2010 - 08:40

I think probably not. The local name for penstemon among various tribes is "fire taste". Some penstemons are apparently edible, but the Range Plant Handbook says "an abundance of pentstemons may an indication of past overgrazing."
Buffalo would probably have avoided sand hill country because there's almost nothing there to eat anyway. Except sand wiches.

Late update - but I thought I'd add this.  The USDA  Plants site does have more detailed data. When you posted it was available when you clicked on a state.  Now they've revamped the site and it's available by narrowing the focus of the map.  So it does show that this species is confined to the central plains and hills,  except in the northern range.  This local data is not always available - they present what they can get or what is provided - and this is always getting better. So it's not 100 % - but represents the data they have so far. It does not seem Canadian province data is more detailed for this species.

I wonder if there's a Canadian herbarium with a database similar to the Rocky Mountain Herbarium Surely there is. Well, look what I found.

The USDA stuff is kind of, well, um, you know. I got the LBJ Wildflower center to change the name of Vernonia lindheimeri var. leucophylla to the correct Vernonia larseniae, but they were unable to change Salvia leptophylla to S. reptans because of the four-letter USDA code, which has to match. (This is the sort of thing I spend my time on.)

Getting people to change it from Penstemon Schmiedel to Penstemon Mitchell is another story entirely. Not really worth the trouble. 



Wait ....this is even better.

Better in the sense that if you gave me an hour, I could tell you exact locations for every specimen of P. albidus in the province.