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Penstemon venustus

Penstemon venustus (Venus' Penstemon)
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Subalpine. Scree. Summer.
Highway 550 above Silverton, August 6, 2021.

Penstemon venustus

Penstemon venustus (Venus' Penstemon)
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Subalpine. Scree. Summer.
Highway 550 above Silverton, August 6, 2021.

As the map below indicates, Penstemon venustus is native to the area where Oregon, Washington, and Idaho meet. Its ease of spreading by seed apparently led highway departments in California, Utah, and Colorado to use it and it is now adventive (i.e., not native but now firmly established) in those states.

Penstemon venustus' mass of bright green shiny leaves and its numerous large flowers make it a prime species for roadside planting and for home planting. Seeds and plants are sold by a number of nurseries.

Plants are long-lived, shrub-like, grow to almost 3 feet tall with thick, lanceolate, serrated leaves 2-4 inches long. Flowers are up to 1.5 inches long (about one inch as shown here) and range from blue to lavender to purple. Notice the fine hairs along the edges of the lobes of the corolla and the hairs on the 4 stamens and on the staminode which projects slightly onto the middle lobe of the lower corolla lip.

In the mid to late 1820s, David Douglas was the first to collect this species for science in "dry channels of rivers among the mountains of North-west America". Douglas named the species in the description published by John Lindley in 1830.

Penstemon venustus

Penstemon venustus (Venus' Penstemon)
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Subalpine. Scree. Summer.
Highway 550 above Silverton, August 6, 2021.

Leaves are thick, glabrous, serrated, and persist long beyond the flowering season.

Penstemon venustus

Penstemon venustus (Venus' Penstemon)
Plantaginaceae (Plantain Family)

Subalpine. Scree. Summer.
Highway 550 above Silverton, August 6, 2021.

The narrow, steep, busy Highway 550 is just a few feet from these plants which I passed and wondered about for many years. Finally in 2019 after the highway had been rebuilt where I took these photographs (half the highway had slid to a new home 500 feet below), I saw my chance to pull into a very small area and see what the mystery plant was. However, I found that it fit no key to Colorado plants. Penstemon expert, Craig Freeman, identified the plant and Colorado now has a new species. Dozens of plants are on both sides of the road at the point shown below and hundreds more are on the very steep mountain-side above the road.

             Penstemon venustus at roadside

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 venustus

Range map for Penstemon venustus (Adventive in San Juan County Colorado)