Firecracker Penstemon in the Landscape
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.
|Native habitat||Widely distributed throughout the West.|
|Soil||Well drained, low fertility, pH 7.0-8.0|
|Cold Tolerance||Zones 3 - 7|
|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.|
|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.|
|Form||Clumping, erect, few to many stems|
|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.|
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.
- 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: http://www.waterwiseplants.utah.gov
- USDA Plants Database. 2008. URL: http://plants.usda.gov
- 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: http://www.nativeplantnetwork.org (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 http://extension.usu.edu/htm/publications, then clicking on ‘Horticulture’ and ‘Native Plants’.
Heidi Kratsch, Extension Ornamental Horticulture Specialist; Graham Hunter, Research Associate, Center for Water Efficient Landscaping