Penstemon, Chelan (Penstemon pruinosis)
Penstemon, Chelan (Penstemon pruinosis)
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Penstemon, Chelan (Penstemon pruinosis)

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Chelan Penstemon, known too by the title Chelan Beardtongue, is a blue-purple flower native to British Columbia and into the Cascades and Pacific Northwest, often emerging in rocky forest openings, grassy slopes, or sagebrush plains. The species name pruinosis means ‘appearing to be covered with a fine dew,’ as the foliage and stems of this plant are lined with small glistening glands that resemble a misty blanketing of dew. It is found predominantly in the wild in Chelan County, Washington. Chelan Penstemon has a preference for rocky soils, and makes for a good addition to drought tolerant gardens. 

Penstemons are masters at networking— as in, they excel in pollinator attraction. Their common name Beardtongue references the hair-like filaments that line the protruding lower petal of their tubular blossoms; these force bees deeper into the flower. As bees struggle to wriggle their ways out, it positions the anthers of the flower in such a way that they wrap around the insect to adhere pollen just where it should be aligned to meet the stigma of the bee’s next floral treat. They have defined guiding ‘runways’ to assure pollinators know just where they might find a trove of nectar. The long bloom time of Beardtongue, from late spring into mid-summer, provides a crucial nectar source in a scarce moment where summer blooms lag behind those of spring. A great number of bees rely on this group of plants, particularly newly hatched bumblebees, leafcutter bees, and sweat bees. A diverse array of moths, beetles, and butterflies also take advantage of Penstemon’s late spring/early summer resources. As flowers with small habits and trumpet-like blossoms that pop with vivacity, Penstemons are an easy and welcome addition to the landscape.

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