Also called the shell-leaf penstemon, or beardtongue penstemon, if you look at the flower, you'll see that it resembles the flower of a snap dragon. It is a native perennial, growing two to three feet tall. Penstemon leaves are opposite each other on the plant stem, and bluish green with a waxy sheen. The pale purple flowers are about 2 inches long. Fertilized flowers develop into egg shaped capsules with brown seeds.
The shell-leaf penstemon is found in prairies, in soils ranging from sandy to loam. It thrives in sunny conditions with well-drained soil. Doug Ladd, author of Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers (1995), wrote that Native Americans used the plant as a remedy for a toothache. There are over 250 different species of penstemon. According to Bob Henrickson, of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, nearly 24 are native to the Great Plains.
One treasure that Nebraska has is the blowout penstemon (Penstemon haydenii). It thrives in the sandy blowouts of the Sandhills. Jim Stubbendieck has studied this plant, and actually propagated and reintroduced plants to the Sandhills. His photos, such as the one at the left, are testimony to the beauty of this plant. The blowout penstemon is listed as an endangered species in Nebraska.
Dale Lindgren, "almost retired" from University of Nebraska - Lincoln Extension, developed the Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red', a beautiful penstemon with reddish leaves that show off the delicate pinkish-white flowers. Some years the leaves lose their red tinge, as in the adjacent photo. Dale recently released Penstemon digitalis 'Purple Towers,' that has foliage that keeps its purple color all summer, and has pink flowers.