shade gardening
shade gardening
(Image credit: Michel VIARD)

For those of us who love plants, a difficult question to answer would be which one is your favorite? I certainly can’t answer that question since I have so many plants I’m overly fond of.

It helps to narrow things down a bit. For instance, if I were to be asked what is my favorite native Northwest perennial, my resounding answer would be penstemon, of which I have several varieties.

Interesting Penstemon Facts

Penstemon (P. laevigatus) is amazing. There are about 300 varieties of penstemon, the largest genus of flowering plants native to North America. The tube shaped blooms come in a variety of hues, and species sizes range from low-growing to over 7 feet (2 m.) in height.

Suited to harsh landscapes, penstemons are often the first plants to arise from disturbed areas of wildfire, erosion and manmade disruption of a landscape. Most are self-sufficient, requiring no supplemental feeding and rare, but deep watering.

Resilient as it is, penstemon’s other great claim to fame is its nectar rich blooms which attract pollinators -- both bees and hummingbirds alike -- in droves.

Growing Penstemon

The tube shaped blooms with a prominent staminode gives rise to the plant’s other name ‘beardtongue’. Its name is derived from the Greek “penta” meaning five, in reference to the unusual fifth stamen found on the blooms.

Excellent naturalizers when allowed to re-seed themselves, penstemons are a low maintenance, easy to grow, native plant that is suited to a slew of environments provided they are in full sun.

Leave seeds on the plant to ripen and re-seed, and mulch with gravel rather than rot-inducing bark, grass or compost mulch.

It turns out that I’m not the only devotee of penstemon. The American Penstemon Society was formed in 1946 to study and foster interest in the many varieties of this native wildflower, so you see, I’m in good company! Maybe after reading this, you too will be encouraged to incorporate one or more of this native North American species into your landscape.

Amy Grant
Writer

Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.