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Penstemon cyanocaulis
Penstemon cyanocaulis
Penstemon cyanocaulis
Penstemon cyanocaulis (Blue-stemmed Penstemon)
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Foothills. Meadows, openings. Spring, summer.
Sanborn Park Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, May 31, 2013.

Penstemon cyanocaulis grows from 8-24+ inches tall (here shown at 18 inches), typically with several flowering stems and typically with a number of plants close-by, making for a very bold show. The corolla color is variously described as blue, lavender-blue, violet, and blue-violet.

Penstemon cyanocaulis was first found for science on "high, dry mesas near Naturita [Colorado]" (just west of where the plants on this page were found) in 1914 by Edwin Payson and he also named and described the plant in 1915. "Cyanocaulis" means blue-stemmed" and perhaps refers to the numerous, tight, blue clusters of flowers obscuring the stem and making the stem appear blue.

Penstemon cyanocaulis

Penstemon cyanocaulis

Penstemon cyanocaulis (Blue-stemmed Penstemon)
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Foothills. Meadows, openings. Spring, summer.
Sanborn Park Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, May 31, 2013.

One significant identifying characteristic of Penstemon cyanocaulis is the tendency of its flower clusters to be on one side of the stem, i.e., to be "secund". Look at the three green stems in the photograph at left. The center one is the main stem of the plant. Two leaves point left and right at the bottom portion of the main stem. From the junction of each leaf with the main stem, another stem (a flower stem called the "peduncle") arises. At the tip of this peduncle, clusters of flowers grow. Although the two peduncles arise on opposite sides of the main stem, both peduncles are leaning toward us in this photograph, so all the flowers are on one side of the main stem pointing toward us.

Several species of Penstemon (and other species. too) have this secund tendency and, in fact, one species is called Penstemon secundiflorus.

Another significant characteristics of Penstemon cyanocaulis is shown in the second photograph at left: Two of the four fertile stamens are very close to the orifice of the floral tube.

A third characteristic is indicated by the arrow which points to the infertile stamen (called the "staminode"). You can see that the staminode has just a few golden hairs (at the tip of the arrow). In some Penstemons the staminode is quite hairy and this hairiness is the source of one common name for Penstemons: Beardtongue.

The photograph below shows another significant characteristic of Penstemon cyanocaulis: the floral throat bulges downward on its lower side, but its upper side is nearly flat. The throat is the wide part of the corolla between the tube (the lower white and light purple section of the corolla) and the limb (the very end of the corolla that is flared back and lobed).

  Penstemon cyanocaulis

Penstemon cyanocaulis

Penstemon cyanocaulis (Blue-stemmed Penstemon)
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Foothills. Meadows, openings. Spring, summer.
Sanborn Park Road, Uncompahgre National Forest, May 31, 2013.

A final, and most easily recognized distinguishing characteristic of Penstemon cyanocaulis, is the shape of its leaves: wavy-margined. Also note that the basal leaves have a long petiole (stem), but the upper ones are sessile (no stem).

Note that the map below shows P. cyanocaulis occurring in Montezuma County, Colorado (the very southwest corner of the state). The report of its occurrence there is incorrect.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Penstemon cyanocaulis

Range map for Penstemon cyanocaulis