|Penstemon smallii in late April|
|Burgundy-tinged Penstemon digitalis|
In Georgia, Penstemon flowers are white, pale lavender, and purple (and all the shades in between). The Xerces Society has a great description of beardtongue that I won’t try to restate: “Beardtongue derives its common name for the hairs that line the protruding lower petal of these tubular plants. These hairs serve an interesting function, forcing bees deeper into the flower. Some Penstemon species also have small protrusions in the flower interior that act like hooks, giving the bee a bit of a squeeze and making them struggle a tiny bit to escape. As they do so, the anthers of the flower wrap around the body of the bee, adhering pollen where it will be perfectly aligned to meet the stigma of the next flower.
Right now I have numerous stems of Penstemon digitalis blooming and the air is humming with the sound of bumble bees. I love to take photos of the bees going into the flowers, just their fuzzy rear hanging out.
These photos of Penstemon calycosus are from a small native plant nursery near me. The plants were robust and happy and full of bees. No matter which species you have, you’ll be supporting bees. I like to say that it isn’t really a picture of a beardtongue if you don’t have a bee butt in it.
Earlier my purple beardtongue (Penstemon smallii) was blooming; just a few stray blooms remain on those plants; that is a species that is also very happy in my yard and I pot up several dozen of them each year to give away (and many friends have it now). They especially love the lawn! I originally bought several of this species from Home Depot; it was grown locally by a nursery that supplies their plants. Also blooming now is the more modest Penstemon canescens. I got this one on a rescue and my friend has propagated it from the seeds of that original plant. The foliage is slightly gray-green on that species.
This photo of Penstemon australis is from a field trip with the Georgia Botanical Society. I initially was not sure if my rescued plant was this species; some folks on a Facebook group helped me understand how to tell the difference (using the angle of the stems in the panicle of blooms).
|More erect on P. australis (left) vs. P. canescens|