Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council Plants Resource Page

Plant of the Month - Foothill Penstemon

Owl’s Clover

Foothill Penstemon

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Plant Description

Common Name(s):Foothill Penstemon
Scientific Name:Penstemon heterophyllus
Family:Plantaginaceae (Plantain)
Plant Type:Perennial
Size:up to 5 feet
Habitat:dry hillsides in Oak Woodland and Chaparral
Blooms:April to July
Fire Response:Stump Sprout or Seed

Foothill penstemon is a many-branched shrub with showy distinctive lavendar flowers. It blooms from April through June.

From a woody base grow many stems. The 1 to 3 inch leaves are linear or lance-shaped and appear opposite along the stems of this plant, as do the flowers. You wouldn't expect it, but the flowers start as yellow buds, typically changing to a lilac color on opening. (This quote comes to mind: "There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly." ~ Richard Buckminster Fuller.) Each flower is up to 1 1/2 inches long and bugle or funnel shaped opening to two-lips, 2-lobed on top and 3-cleft on the bottom. The curled anthers are an interesting feature. Birds and butterflies enjoy the plant, as do gardeners who enjoy its beauty, tolerance to heavy soil, and cut flowers which last relatively well.

The genus name Penstemon is Greek for "five stamens" - really the plant has 4 stamens and one sterile filament in the center called a staminode.. The species name heterophyllus means "different leaves".

Contributed by Liz Baumann

Foothill Penstemon - Originally featured: May 2012
Last modified: May 12 2017 16:41:00.
Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Images Botanical Terms for Leaves