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Plant Profile: Bunchleaf Penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus)

Also known as foothills penstemon and foothills beardtongue, this evergreen herbaceous perennial is endemic to California where it grows in grassland, chaparral, and forests of all of the major coastal mountain ranges and the northern Sierra Nevada foothills. It is a member of the plantain family, Plantaginaceae, that also includes snapdragon, turtlehead, and foxglove. The plant grows 3-5′ tall and has upright branching stems with shiny blue-green leaves of variable shape and up to 4″ long. From spring to mid summer, wide-mouthed, tubular flowers appear. They are 1.5″ across, may be shades of blue or purple to magenta, and are attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. Bunchleaf penstemon is tolerant of heat and drought and is a good choice for xeriscaping. Several cultivars are available that differ most significantly in size and color, and are suitable for rock gardens. The genus name, Penstemon, comes from the Greek words pente meaning five and stamon meaning the warp of an upright loom, and refers to the five upright, thread-like pollen bearing organs of the flower.  The specific epithet, heterophyllus comes from the Greek words  ἕτερος (héteros) meaning different and φύλλον (phúllon) meaning leaf, referring to the variable leaf shape.

Type: Evergreen herbaceous perennial

Bloom: Wide-mouthed tubular flowers in shades of blue or purple to magenta from spring to mid-summer

Size: 3-5′ H x 5′ W

Light: Full sun to part shade

Soil: Average, dry, very well-drained

Hardiness: Zones 7-10

Care: Prune in early spring before new growth appears; cut back by half after flowering to encourage rebloom.

Pests and Diseases: Snail, slugs, aphids, eelworm (leaf and bud), gray-mold, powdery mildew, fungal leaf spot

Propagation: Seed, softwood cuttings in early summer, semi-ripe cutting in mid summer, division

Companion Plants: California fushia, bush monkey flower, prairie flax

Outstanding Selections:

  • ‘Electric Blue’ (intense blue flowers)
  •  ‘Margarita BOP’ (sky blue to reddish purple flowers)
  • ‘Blue Springs’ (bright blue flowers)

Photo Credit: Wikipedia