Penstemon davidsonii Greene

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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

Recommended citation
'Penstemon davidsonii' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2024-05-21.


  • P. menziesii Hook., nom. illegit.
  • P. menziesii subsp. davidsonii (Greene) Piper
  • P. davidsonii subsp. menziesii Keck
  • P. davidsonii var. menziesii (Keck) Cronquist


(pl. calyces) Outer whorl of the perianth. Composed of several sepals.
The inner whorl of the perianth. Composed of free or united petals often showy.
A collection of preserved plant specimens; also the building in which such specimens are housed.
(pl. apices) Tip. apical At the apex.
Reduced leaf often subtending flower or inflorescence.
With an unbroken margin.
Lacking hairs smooth. glabrescent Becoming hairless.
Bearing glands.
Grey-blue often from superficial layer of wax (bloom).
Plant originating from the cross-fertilisation of genetically distinct individuals (e.g. two species or two subspecies).
Lance-shaped; broadest in middle tapering to point.
Egg-shaped; broadest towards the stem.
Lying flat.
Sterile or abortive stamen. Can be petaloid or converted into a nectary.
(syn.) (botanical) An alternative or former name for a taxon usually considered to be invalid (often given in brackets). Synonyms arise when a taxon has been described more than once (the prior name usually being the one accepted as correct) or if an article of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature has been contravened requiring the publishing of a new name. Developments in taxonomic thought may be reflected in an increasing list of synonyms as generic or specific concepts change over time.


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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

Recommended citation
'Penstemon davidsonii' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2024-05-21.

A creeping, mat-forming shrub with erect flowering stems 2 to 6 in. high, downy. Leaves on the prostrate stems rather thick, glabrous, not glaucous, 316 to 38 in. long, variable in shape from elliptic to obovate or roundish, entire or more or less saw-toothed, usually obtuse to rounded at the apex, shortly stalked; the leaves on the flowering stems below the flowers reduced in size and often bract-like. Racemes glandular-downy, few-flowered. Calyx 516 to 716 in. long, the sepals lanceolate to ovate-lanceolate. Corolla lavender- to violet-coloured, 1 to 112 in. long, between tubular and funnel-shaped, two-lipped, the upper lip two-lobed, the lower one three-lobed and hairy near the base. Anthers densely bearded; staminode much shorter than the fertile stamens, hairy at the tip.

Native of western N. America from the southern end of the Sierra Nevada, California, north to southern British Columbia (including the southern part of Vancouver Island); it also occurs in Alaska and extends east into Nevada. It was discovered by Menzies during the Vancouver expedition 1790–5 and described by the elder Hooker under the illegitimate and confused name P. menziesii (on this name see further below). The specimen was said to have been collected in Nootka Sound (on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island), where the species is still to be found. But J. C. Bennett has pointed out that these sea-level plants are robuster and larger-leaved than the plant found by Menzies, which matches those that occur high in the mountains of Vancouver Island. Yet Menzies cannot have visited these high-level locations, which would in his time have been inaccessible owing to the dense forests and the hostility of the Indians (Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 59 (1934), p. 353). A possible explanation is that at the end of the 18th century the small-leaved very dwarf form still existed at sea-level as a relict from a cold and wet climatic phase of the post-glacial epoch, but has since disappeared.

P. davidsonii was described in 1892 from a plant collected in the Yosemite region of California. In this plant the leaves are quite entire, as they are on all plants from California, while in the type of P. menziesii they are toothed. Judging from the plants in the Kew Herbarium the presence or absence of teeth is not correlated with any other character, but the combination P. davidsonii var. menziesii (Keck) Cronquist is perfectly valid, and could if necessary be used to distinguish plants with toothed leaves from those with entire leaves.

The name P. menziesii appeared in garden literature around the middle of the last century, and the name P. davidsonii early in the present century. Yet curiously enough the species to which these names properly belong did not come into cultivation until the 1930s. This introduction was at first known as P. menziesii microphyllus and is believed to have come from the Selkirk mountains of British Columbia. This is a high-mountain form, growing only an inch or two high, with leaves 38 in. or less long with scarcely noticeable toothing, of a dark, glossy green. The flowers, borne May and June, are of a remarkable size for such a small-leaved plant.

For the plant distributed by the Six Hills nursery as P. davidsonii, see P. rupicola, treated under P. newberryi. The plant known to Farrer as P. davidsonii was probably a form or hybrid of P. newberryi. It had stems that ended ‘in baggy bugles of a ferocious aniline red-mauve most terrible and breath-taking to look upon in the sun’ (The English Rock Garden, Vol. 2, p. 49).

Note. Although Hooker’s description of P. menziesii is based on the Menzies specimen from Nootka, he cited as a synonym Gerardia fruticosa Pursh, which is the type of Penstemon fruticosus (Pursh) Greene. This citation renders the name P. menziesii illegitimate, for if Hooker considered the Menzies specimen to belong to the same species as the penstemon which Pursh named Gerardia fruticosa, then he should have used the epithet fruticosus. This may seem a pettifogging reason for suppressing a long-established name, but there is the further consideration that Hooker’s P. menziesii is a confused species, in effect compounded of two distinct species, namely P. davidsonii and P. fruticosus. This in part explains how P. menziesii came to be used in such a wide sense.