And Then There Were Three!


Two penstemons met on a SoCal crest
Scarlet and Purple, each knew they were best
A bee sipped one, flew dust to the other
Scarlet as father, Purple as mother
Bred Violet, classy best in the West.

Scarlet bugler (Penstemon centranthifolius) and purple or showy penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis) are short-lived perennials flaunting exhuberantly flowering stalks, attracting many pollinators – hummingbirds, bees (Anthidium illustre is one), Syrphid flies, et al. Violet is a well-known hybrid (Penstemon x parishii).

These penstemons are great for classrooms and public events as colorfully clear examples of what happens when natural hybridization takes place. The ability of these penstemons to attract pollinators makes them a beautiful and useful addition to your water-conserving southern California inland garden.

Scarlet bugler, purple or showy penstemon, and their violet hybrid, Penstemon x parishiiIn the photo: scarlet bugler is on the left, purple or showy penstemon is at the top, and their violet hybrid, Penstemon x parishii is center right.


  1. Thanks for this very interesting post. The beauty of Penstemon’s can’t be beat! Spectacular Penstemon is well-named.

    1. Penstemons are members of the same family as snapdragons (Plantaginaceae), but they are very different in having large stalks of flowers, large stiff leaves and, as you see here, they easily hybridize. These particular species grow about three to four feet tall on substantial stems.

  2. i think it is surprising that Penstemon x parishii is so consistent is leaf shape and especially flower color no matter if the pollen originates from scarlet bugler or showy penstemon, whereas hybrids between white sage and either purple sage or black sage can vary greatly in leaf shape and flower color. I am also curious why foothill penstemons don’t hybridize with either of
    these two penstemons.

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