Native to the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico, Parry penstemon (Penstemon parryi) is a short-lived perennial that reseeds easily.
Parry penstemon forms a dense rosette of blue-green leaves that hugs the ground, nearly unnoticeable until it sends up long, vertical flower spikes (up to 4 feet tall) bearing tubular-shaped blooms in shades of red and pink. Five lobes form the flower, two upper lobes and three forward-projecting lower lobes. Pepper-sized seeds form in pods. “Penstemon” means “five stamens”. Looking inside a flower you only see four stamens. The fifth stamen, called a staminode, has lost its anther and instead has a cluster of dense hairs near the tip. The bearded staminode gives rise to another common name for P. parryi, beardtongue or Parry’s beardtongue.
Butterflies, hummingbirds, verdins, moths, bees and other pollinating insects are attracted to Parry penstemon. Quail, lizards and finches eat the blossoms.
Desert penstemon is yet another colloquial name for Parry penstemon. Charles C. Parry (1823-1890) is the namesake for this showy plant. Parry was a British-American physician, botanist and mountaineer who was a part of the Mexican Boundary Survey (1848-1855) that determined the border between Mexico and the United States.
These Parry penstemon specimens were photographed near Tucson AZ.