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Penstemon ophianthus

Penstemon ophianthus

Penstemon ophianthus. Synonyms: Penstemon jamesii subspecies ophianthus, Penstemon breviculus, Penstemon parviflorus. (Snake Penstemon)
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Openings. Spring, summer. Yucca House National Monument, May 11, 2017.

In many of its characteristics, Penstemon ophianthus is quite similar to Penstemon breviculus, but careful observation shows differences. Here is how the Flora of the Four Corners key separates the two species:

P. ophianthus: Corolla 7-10 mm wide, 15-22 mm long, orifice much wider than high; throat much inflated; lower lip glandular within; anther sacs 0.8-1.2 mm long; staminode usually prominently exserted.

P. breviculus: Corolla ~5 mm wide, 12-20 mm long, orifice as high or higher than wide; throat is not or is only moderately inflated; lower lip not glandular within; anther sacs 0.6-1 mm long; staminode not or barely exserted.

In addition, P. ophianthus has leaves 3-12 cm long and 6-22 mm wide. Leaves of P. breviculus are 2-8 cm long and 4-16 mm wide .

And finally, the corolla of P. ophianthus is blue to blue-violet to pale lavender; the corolla of P. breviculus is dark blue to purple to lavender.

If the plants are in flower, look first at the color and size of the corolla and then at the position of the staminode.

Penstemon ophianthus

Penstemon ophianthus. Synonyms: Penstemon jamesii subspecies ophianthus, Penstemon breviculus, Penstemon parviflorus. (Snake Penstemon)
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Openings. Spring. Yucca House National Monument,

Penstemon ophianthus and Penstemon breviculus are sympatric, i.e., they often occupy the same habitat, and, as the maps below indicate, they are also found in the same counties. They also have a number of morphological similarities and, especially before flowering, they can be difficult to distinguish from each other. Welsh and Weber separate the two species primarily by the position of their staminode (the sterile stamen): that of P. ophianthus is exserted (protrudes from the corolla) whereas that of P. breviculus is included within the corolla.

Allred's Flora Neomexicana III agrees that the staminode position is important and adds that the corolla shape is also diagnostic. The corolla of P. breviculus is just 5-6 mm wide and the corolla opening is about as wide as it is high whereas the corolla opening of P. ophianthus is 8-19 mm wide and the opening is much wider than high.

There is general agreement that the corolla opening of P. ophianthus is noticeably wider than that of P. breviculus.

Strangely, Ackerfield's Flora of Colorado omits Penstemon ophianthus, not even mentioning it as a synonym.

In 1916 Francis Pennell examined a specimen collected in Utah in August of 1894 by Marcus Jones and realized that it had been incorrectly named Penstemon moffattii by Jones. In 1920 Pennell described this new species. Jones had named the plant Penstemon moffattii thinking it was the same species that Alice Eastwood had discovered in 1892 near Grand Junction.

"Ophi" "anthus" is Greek for "snake" "flower", perhaps referring to the curled anthers.

Penstemon ophianthus

Penstemon ophianthus. Synonyms: Penstemon jamesii subspecies ophianthus, Penstemon breviculus, Penstemon parviflorus. (Snake Penstemon)
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Openings. Spring, summer. Yucca House National Monument, May 11, 2017.

Glistening glandular hairs abound on the buds, the exterior of the corolla, and, to a lesser extent on the interior of the corolla (not visible).

The sterile stamen (called a "staminode") is golden hairy and projects from the corolla tube.

Corollas range from 8-19 mm wide and 14-22 mm long. Those pictured on in the shortest measurements.

       Penstemon ophianthus

 

Penstemon ophianthus

Penstemon ophianthus. Synonyms: Penstemon jamesii subspecies ophianthus, Penstemon breviculus, Penstemon parviflorus. (Snake Penstemon)
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Semi-desert, foothills. Openings. Spring, summer. Yucca House National Monument, April 30, 2017.

Basal leaves of Penstemon ophianthus are 3-12 cm long, upper leaves are shorter and narrower. Both are glabrous in contrast to the very glandular inflorescence. Basal leaves persist through the winter.

 

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

Range map for Penstemon breviculus

Penstemon ophianthus

Range map for Penstemon ophianthus