This beauty has been described as “one of the glories of the plant kingdom, and probably the most fragrant of all penstemons” (Nold 1999), which is perhaps an understatement! This tall species has exceptionally large (for a penstemon) pink flowers and toothed silvery-blue leaves that clasp the stem. Insects and hummingbirds find these flowers irresistible. Like so many penstemons, it is not happy if watered much and does best if neglected. In fact, it has been used extensively for roadside seeding and has taken successfully in many parts of Wyoming.
Other nice pink penstemons include P. clutei A. Nelson (Sunset Crater penstemon), P. pseudospectabilis M.E. Jones (desert beardtongue), P. grandiflorus Nutt. (large beardtongue), and P. eriantherus Pursh (fuzzytongue beardtongue). Fuzzytongue is broadly distributed across Wyoming, is about a foot tall, and has lavender-pink flowers and fuzzy leaves and stems, as well as the eponymous tongue. The desert beardtongue is spectacular (don’t believe the species name in this case!), grows up to 5 feet tall, and has rose-red to magenta flowers. ‘Elfin Pink’ is another pink-flowered penstemon that is more commonly available; however, this cultivar’s parent is actually the red P. barbatus.
Water needs: very low
Exposure: full sun
Availability in nurseries: Palmer’s beardtongue is relatively common, as is ‘Elfin pink’; look to specialist nurseries for the others
Native range: P. palmeri, UT, NV, CA, and AZ, but watch for it along WY highways; P. clutei, AZ; P. pseudospectabilis, UT, NM, AZ, and CA; P. eriantherus, northern Rocky Mountains and Great Plains, west into OR and WA (WY native)
Plant family: Plantaginaceae