The rare Osterhout penstemon grows in Eagle County
Vail, CO, Colorado
I recently wrote about Eagle County’s secret penstemon. We are one of a handful of Colorado counties listed by the USDA as having this choice native as a resident.
Osterhout’s penstemon officially only occurs in six counties in western Colorado. (As four border Utah; reports of this dryland penstemon in that state make sense.)
Where Rocky Mountain penstemon (P. strictus) is both native, and readily available on the commercial market, P. osterhoutii is not found for sale. Yet it outnumbers P. strictus in some places in the wild right here.
If you have hiked around Wildridge or Singletree, you have come across a narrow, medium height plant with flowers that range from lilac-violet, to violet with blue touches. The fading flowers turn blue when they dry then drop. From mid May to late June, it is one of the more prevalent wildflowers up the Wildwood and Mountain Star foothills in Avon.
It has sage colored leaves that are wider than Rocky Mountain penstemon’s. It is a vertical penstemon, with more foliage around the base, including basal leaves. It’s leaves are a slightly greenish sage color. It is also evergreen. Its basal leaf clumps dot the rocky, looser soils that form many of the south-facing slopes of our local foothills.
P. osterhouitii is an attractive wildflower of the higher sagebrush-juniper foothills. Its local buddies include desert globemallow, native lupine, various buckwheats, incuding the dazzling sulfur umbrella, scarlet gilia, fleabanes, and showy locoweed.
It is not legal, but it is lethal, to the plant that is, to dig it up. Don’t do it. It is not so frequent that the population can take it anyway. Wildflower populations in the tougher environments are not frequent in the way they are in other locales. Besides, the plant, like many high desert foothill natives, cannot tolerate transplanting from the wild.
However, seed collecting for this Eagle County specialty is a suggestion that I would like to throw out to any enthusiasts, as it is not a retail penstemon. Osterhout’s beardtounge is still flowering in some places, and turning in others.
Getting penstemon seeds is a little tricky in that you don’t want to collect the seed until it is fairly ripe, but before it drops its seed from its pods.
Protect the population by not being seed greedy. Always take just a little from each plant or group with plants like P. osterhoutii. It is essentially a rare plant in a fragile environment. It isn’t prolific like many plants, and can’t sustain having its reproduction reduced.
As many of the seeds get raided by various living things, harvesting some is not a negative. Just be conscientious. The point and purpose of careful seed collection should be to establish flowering plants in gardens where they can then be reproduced, instead of ongoing wild collection. This penstemon is worth it.
I found a good seed germination resource on storing and stratifying pestemon seed. Thanks and credit to Jim Swayne, and “The Penstemons ” Seed Germination Methodology” from the Internet, for the recommended care of this seed.
First, store the seed in a dry location for six months. Seventy degrees is recommended. Then chill (“stratify”) the seed barely covered in a seed planting medium for eight weeks at forty degrees. A sterilized plastic food container works fine. I believe this is intended to be a moist medium, and the advice to use sterile mediums is in order here. The seeds are then moved to light for regular germination, and sixty degrees is an ideal temperature.
Penstemon osterhoutii is named for George Osterhout, a renowned Colorado naturalist.
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