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Ohio has only six of the approximately 279 species of Penstemon within its borders. I previously wrote about P. digitalis. Today’s feature is P. hirsutus, named for the very obvious hairs present on the foliage, stems and flowers. I’ve not yet had the pleasure of taking photos of this lovely species, but Robert Klips, my colleague in the Department of EEOB, has graciously provided three photos for this blog post (thanks, Bob!).

Penstemon hirsutus - photo by Robert Klips

Penstemon hirsutus – photo by Robert Klips

Penstemon hirsutus is not only a beautiful wildflower, but it makes a great addition for gardens, especially in the Great Lakes region, New England, and through parts of the southeast.  Its range is from Quebec, Canada to Kentucky. It is easily grown in a variety of climates, and can be found in gardens in Europe as well as throughout the USA and Canada.

This lovely species is one of a handful that has a corolla that is closed at the mouth. Bees must insert their heads or whole bodies into the corolla after forcing open the petals that form the lips of the mouth.

Penstemon hirsutus - photo by Robert Klips

Penstemon hirsutus – photo by Robert Klips

Flowering occurs in late spring (May and June). There are several cultivars on the market, including ‘Roseus’ – a pink-flowered form. Dwarf forms are also available ranging in height from two to four inches, whereas the wild type is 18 to 24 inches tall.

The plant was named by Linnaeus as Chelone hirsuta, but the name was corrected to Penstemon hirsutus in 1800 by Willdenow. Pennell discussed the taxonomy in his wonderful monograph, The Scrophulariaceae of Eastern Temperate North America, and gave some interesting tidbits such as:

“A species of lower elevations, with distribution that shows little correlation with geological or physiographic areas, but which has developed an extensive northern range since the glacial retreat.”

One of the interesting features about P. hirsutus, and several close relatives in subgenus Penstemon section Penstemon subsection Penstemon is the dense, long glandular hair present throughout the plant.  Bob Klips refers to this as “nature’s fly paper.” This is pretty obvious here:

Photo by Robert Klips ©2013.

Penstemon hirsutus – photo by Robert Klips

Look for this beautiful species next spring in wooded areas. Bob Klips photographed this species in Greenville Falls State Nature Preserve. I will definitely be looking for it next spring!