Name: Blue Mountain Penstemon
Scientific name: Penstemon venustus
Penstemons are among the most showy of the wildflowers of Western North America. There are 30 species of Penstemon in Northeastern Oregon, making this area one of the most popular destinations for fans of penstemons. In fact, the American Penstemon Society has in the past held its annual meeting in Walla Walla and in Enterprise.
“Venustus” is Latin for “graceful” or “beautiful,” which is appropriate for this Penstemon named for the Blue Mountains. This is also one of the most common penstemons in the Blues, and is found only from Northeastern Oregon to the southeast corner of Washington and adjacent Idaho.
The plant grows in large mounds that are often over 2 feet wide and 2 feet tall. The large mounds of blue-purple flowers often line the roads at around 4,000 feet elevation in the Blues. They make quite a display when the mounds are mingled with white yarrow and red paintbrush. There are other similar species of Penstemon locally, but this is the only one which grows in such large mounds.
The flowers are densely arranged, covering the upper fourth of the unbranched stems. Each flower is somewhat trumpet-shaped, with five petal lobes. Someone with a sense of humor named the genus “Penstemon,” meaning five stamens. The flowers actually have only four stamens, but have a fifth fake stamen that has no anther. The leaves are opposite each other on the stems, with the leaf blade edges serrated.
I was unable to find a record of specific uses for this Penstemon species. However, penstemons in general have a number of uses, and in spite of the relatively small area in which this plant is found, it is so plentiful here that a number of uses is quite likely.
Where to find: The large clumps of flowers are easy to spot along roads and in clearings of the forest at middle to upper elevations of the Blue Mountains.