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Penstemon spectabilis var. spectabilis

Common name: Showy Penstemon

If any plant in the chaparral really lives up to it’s name, it is probably Showy Penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis). It can grow pretty tall (the largest I’ve seen probably 6 feet/2 meters), and a dazzling multitude of flowers in vibrant pink and light blue radiate in the sun. The flowers last for quite a while and as they mature the light blue turns into a deep purple.

Luckily, quite some of it grows on the trails near our house that are all part of the San Dieguito River Park – along the Piedras Pintadas Trail, the Bernardo Bay trails, and the Coast To Crest trail. I use these trails for my runs and there is one particular patch of Showy Penstemon near the loop section of the Piedras Pintadas trail that always fills me with delight when I come out of a little riparian area into the open where it grows.

Because of these intensive and vibrant colors alone, Showy Penstemon would be a real challenge to photograph already – one must be careful to not overexpose the flowers and blow out the colors, which happens quickly with the red and blue channels in particular.

In addition to that though, because of the plant’s height and its thin and flexible stem, it easily sways in the wind, and the amount of flowers provide plenty of surface area for the wind to catch on – a light breeze will move the plant around enough to make any attempt at acquiring focus a real test of patience. :-)

Last not least, there’s the sheer size and depth of the individual flowers – it’s hard to get sufficient depth of field while maintaining a nice bokeh (the photographer’s fancy word for out-of-focus areas). I hope that I succeeded in transporting the Showy Penstemon’s beauty to you in my photos:


The scientific name “Penstemon” effictively means “five-stamens” (Greek “penta”, five + stamen). It was originally written as “pentstemon” by Linnaeus to indicate the unusual fifth stamen, which is an infertile staminode that is often hairy and protruding from the corolla like a tongue — hence the common name “beardtongue” for Penstemons.

The genus “spectabilis” comes from Latin “spectabile” which means noteworthy, admirable, worth seeing. Fitting! :)

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5 thoughts on “Penstemon spectabilis var. spectabilis”

  1. Love these penstemon – these and penstemon parryi make me weak in the knees. And lovely DOF – I think you mentioned in an earlier post that you hand-hold the camera? Impressive!

    • Thank you Chloe – yes, I hand-hold the camera for most flower photos. It’s more convenient than trying to get a tripod into the correct position. I’ve had to look up Penstemon parryii, native to Arizona and Mexico – they’re probably grown cultivated in some native gardens in California, but I’ve never seen them.

      What do you think about the color in the photos above? I’m having a hard time remembering what they look like since I made the photos in April and May. I hope I got the color right, it’s always tricky with intensive blue and purple.

      Thanks again!

  2. I think the color is spot-on! It’s so difficult to capture those saturated colors but you did a beautiful job. I had several p. parryi in my garden (on the Central Coast) but repeatedly killed them by overwater. Evidently a very slow learner.

    • Thanks for the color verification. :) Yes watering natives that are used to dry climates is a challenge. I’m currently trying to get it right for some Woolly Bluecurls…


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