Cobaea penstemon

With winter now in full swing, I long for summer’s warmth and color.  Going through my library of wildflower images is a nice diversion at this time of the year.  Thus, another installment in my “Wild Thing!” series is born.

The bell-shaped blooms of cobaea penstemon

Cobaea penstemon is also known as showy beardtongue and wild foxglove, though it is unrelated to the true European foxglove.  It is in the scrophulariaceae (figwort) family which is the same family as snapdragons.  In Kansas, it is found in the east 2/3 of the state, but its range goes north and east to Ohio and south as far as Texas.  It favors sandy, rocky hillsides and especially limestone outcrops.  It grows from 6 to 40 inches in height with strong stems that bear clusters of 2-6 blooms that range in color from white or pinkish to pale lavender.  The throats have prominent magenta or violet lines.  It normally blooms in May and June, and the plants may be 2 or 3 years old before they produce blooms.

Cobaea penstemon, habitat shot (Wilson Lake in the background)

The first time I ever saw these exquisite blooms was two years ago while hiking at Wilson Lake.  We walked into this area (pictured above) that had dozens of these beautiful flowers, gently swaying in the breeze.  The blooms are bell-shaped and very graceful and elegant.  The purple stripes around the throat are beautiful, and the details inside are amazing.

Details of the throat of cobaea penstemon, shot near Tuttle Creek Reservoir

In this close-up, you can see why it is called a “beardtongue.”  Look at the fuzzy stamen protruding from the throat.

Cobaea penstemon grow gracefully next to a post rock at Wilson Lake

Cobaea penstemon is closely related to another prairie penstemon, Buckley’s penstemon, that blooms around the same time.  The blooms of Buckley’s penstemon are not as showy or as large, being more elongated in shape than bell-like.  It is a perennial, and livestock will quickly eat new growth.  The blooms are also a larval host for the dotted checkerspot butterfly, and attract other various butterflies and moths with its sweet nectar.

Sources:  Wildflowers & Grasses of Kansas by Michael John Haddock; www.kswildflower.org, www.wildflower.org

If you have any facts or information to share about this Wild Thing!, please feel free to post a comment.  I would like my posts to be both informative and entertaining, and any feedback is always appreciated.

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