Firecracker Penstemon in the Landscape

firecracker penstemon
Graham Hunter

January 2009

Penstemon eatonii


Bright scarlet flowers that shower from arching stems of firecracker penstemon have made this plant a favorite of many penstemon enthusiasts. The species is found throughout the West at elevations from 3,000 to 11,000 feet. It is adaptable to various soil textures but thrives in low-fertility soils. Like most penstemon species, its roots require excellent soil drainage. The bright red tubular flower makes it a favorite nectar source for hummingbirds. The common name for penstemon is ‘beardtongue’, named for the infertile stamen that protrudes from the flower and looks like a hairy tongue. Firecracker penstemon is cold-hardy all over the Intermountain West, and preliminary common garden trials indicate that seed source should not influence its hardiness. 

Cultural Requirements:

Native habitat Widely distributed throughout the West. 
Soil Well drained, low fertility, pH 7.0-8.0
Cold Tolerance  Zones 3 - 7
Drought Tolerance High 
Salt Tolerance Unknown
Sun/Shade Preference Full sun to part shade
Propagation Seed, stem cuttings, or division
Maintenance Do not over-water or over-fertilize. Reseeds freely, so clip stalks after final bloom to prevent spreading. 
Problems Susceptible to lodging (stalks fall over) and root rot diseases if overwatered.

Landscape Value: 

Use in the Landscape Borders, accents, rock gardens; often recommended as cut flowers. 
Foliage Basal leaves are ovate, upper leaves are opposite and lanceolate and slightly curled. 
Inflorescence Showy. Will re-bloom if spent flowers are removed. 
Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct
Fruit (seedheads) Capsule
Form Clumping, erect, few to many stems
Texture Medium
Ultimate Size 10-40 inches
Rate of Growth Medium to fast; flowers in second year.
Plant Community Most communities from subalpine to salt desert shrub. 
Cultivars ‘Richfield Selection’


To start seed indoors, cold-moist stratify for up to 112 days, and sow into container to a depth of 1/8 inch. For sowing seed outdoors, sow seed in fall and cover with1/8 inch soil. Pre-soaking seed with 500 ppm gibberellic acid (GA) prior to cold-stratification may improve germination rate. Division of mature plants may be done in spring or fall.

Additional Photo:

USU Herbarium

firecracker penstemon


  • Mee, W., J. Barnes, R. Kjelgren, R. Sutton, T. Cerny, and C. Johnson. 2003. Waterwise: Native Plants for Intermountain Landscapes. Utah State University Press, Logan, UT.
  • Utah Water-wise Plants (Utah Division of Water Resources). 2008. URL:
  • USDA Plants Database. 2008. URL:
  • Baskin, C. C. and J.M. 2002. Propagation protocol for production of container Penstemon eatonii Gray plants; University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky. In: Native Plant Network. URL: (accessed 2 January 2009). Moscow (ID): University of Idaho, College of Natural Resources, Forest Research Nursery.
  • This fact sheet belongs to a series of fact sheets about Intermountain West native trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses called “Native Plants in the Landscape.” Look for others in the series by visiting, then clicking on ‘Horticulture’ and ‘Native Plants’. 


Heidi Kratsch, Extension Ornamental Horticulture Specialist; Graham Hunter, Research Associate, Center for Water Efficient Landscaping

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