FACT SHEET: Firecracker Penstemon

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Common Name: Firecracker Penstemon
Other Common Names: Eaton Penstemon, Eaton Beardtongue, Scarlet Bugler
Scientific Name: Penstemon eatonii
Family: Figwort Family (Scrophulariaceae)
Distribution: southern Intermountain region
Habitat: many plant communities, from blackbrush communities up to subalpine meadows

Habit: perennial herb
Height: 1.0-4.0'
Spread: 1-3'
Foliage Color: shiny dark green
Leaves: broadly lance shaped to ovate, the upper clasping at the base, leathery, not toothed, to 8" long, opposite, both basal and along the stem
Flower Color: scarlet or very rarely cream
Flower Form: flowers nearly tubular, pendant, 1-1.2" long, borne along one side of the stalk in terminal spikes

Cultural Requirements: Prefers full sun and well-drained soils. Fully cold-hardy. Drought hardy (i.e., needs no supplemental water after establishment on the Wasatch Front) and intolerant of overwatering and excessive fertility. Too-lush growing conditions can cause the flowering stalks to fall over (lodge), and may shorten the life of the plant

Culture: Firecracker penstemon seeds are usually dormant at maturity, though the degree of dormancy varies with habitat. Most require10-16 weeks of moist chilling to become germinable, and germinate in chilling. The germinated seeds should be planted in elongate containers, as penstemon roots like to grow down at first, not out. Plants require two years to flower. This species may be successfully direct-seeded in late fall for spring emergence.

Uses and Notes of Interest: Firecracker penstemon is one of the outstandingly beautiful wildflowers of Utah. The bright scarlet flowers occur in profusion, with individual plants bearing up to thirty flowering stalks. Though specimen plants can be very showy, massed plantings are most effective. Hummingbirds will stake territories over these firecracker patches and risk all to defend their prime nectar source. The plants flower synchronously, but bloom time is long, up to six weeks, as flowers further up the stalk continue to open. It is best to clip penstemon stalks while they are still very green. Otherwise they will volunteer freely, in your compost pile and everywhere else. Clipping may extend the life of the plant as well. To collect seed, let the stalks dry, and strip the dried capsules.