Hot Rock Penstemon

Shades of blue, rose, red and violet are the colors I always associate with penstemons. However, of the more than 250 species of penstemons in the United States a few have yellow or white flowers, one of which is the hot rock penstemon (Penstemon deustus). This native perennial is found in eight western states – Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.

Also colloquially known as scabland beardtongue, hot rock penstemon has a somewhat bushy appearance and grows to a height of one half to two feet. It prefers a dry, rocky habitat.

Hot rock penstemon leaves are lance-shaped, have sharply jagged edges and are arranged in opposite pairs on the stems. The leaves decrease in size going up the stem until they resemble bracts near the tips where the flowers are borne in whorls originating from the leaf axils.

The tubular tan to yellow flowers of hot rock penstemon display bilateral symmetry. The five petals are arranged into two lips, two lobes on the upper lip and three lobes on the lower. Distinct red lines on the petals of hot rock penstemon distinguish it from yellow penstemon (Penstemon confertus), although some subspecies of hot rock penstemon appear to lack the red lines. There are five stamens, four fertile and one sterile, and a two-celled ovary with one style. The “pen” part of the genus name derives from the Latin for “five” and refers to the five stamens.

The fruit is a capsule that releases numerous seeds upon maturity.

Nectar gathering insects, particularly bees, land on the “platform” created by the lower flower lobe to feed on the nectar within the flower tube. Birds and small vertebrates forage for hot rock penstemon seeds.

Native Americans utilized poultices made from hot rock penstemon leaves to treat boils, tick bites, open sores and other skin problems. A decoction of hot rock penstemon leaves was used to ease stomach ache, colds and rheumatic aches. Venereal diseases were treated, internally and externally, with various concoctions of fresh or dried hot rock penstemon

These hot rock penstemon, members of the snapdragon or figwort family, were photographed along the bike trail at Eagle Lake (Shasta County CA). The plants were among the rocks away from the lake.

The plants from a distance look rather plain, but I think hot rock penstemon flowers when viewed close-up are beautiful and a delightful change from the usual anthocyanin (blue, red water-soluble pigments) penstemon colors.

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