Plantaginaceae: Plantain Family — Collinsia & Penstemon

Child’s Blue-eyed Mary – Collinsia childii

Blooms:

Apr–June

Plant Height:

18–35 cm

Flower Size:

Medium cluster

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Dry shady places, 1000–2200 m

Notes:

An uncommon plant, erect with small, 6–9 mm, white to pale lavender flowers in a loose whorl.  It is quite different from the pagoda-like whorls of Chinese Houses (Collinsia heterophylla, see below).  The leaves are oblong to oblanceolate, opposite and with tapered bases.  The flowers are conspicuously glandular, 2–5 per node, with pedicels longer than the calyx.

Chinese Houses – Collinsia heterophylla var. heterophylla

Blooms:

Mar–June

Plant Height:

20–50 cm

Flower Size:

Large cluster

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Shady places in chaparral & woodland

Notes:

A common plant, with distinctive interrupted whorls of 3–5 flowers, giving the plant a somewhat pagoda-like appearance.  The flowers are typically pink-purple, but are quite variable, even pure white.  Each flower appears to have 4 lobes, two upper (which are generally paler) and two lower.  In fact, there is a third lower lobe, hidden between the other two, keeled and enclosing the stamens and style.  The leaves are lance-deltate, opposite and sessile on the straight stem.

Few-flowered Blue-eyed Mary – Collinsia sparsiflora var. collina

Blooms:

Mar–Apr

Plant Height:

5–20 cm

Flower Size:

Small

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Disturbed grassy areas

Notes:

This uncommon plant is distinguished from Child’s Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia childii, see above) by its acute-tipped calyx lobes, its few flowers (1–2 per node), its lack of glands and its smaller size.  The corolla is 5–8 mm, generally lavender to purple, often barely angled to the tube.  Leaves are linear to oblong.  It is found mostly in the southern part of the county, but also near Mt Toro, and inland along Carmel Valley Road.

Yawning Penstemon – Keckiella breviflora var. breviflora

Blooms:

May–July

Plant Height:

0.5–2 m

Flower Size:

Medium

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Dry rocky slopes, especially in chaparral

Notes:

This is a large, many- and loosely-branched, many-flowered shrub.  The flowers are whitish to rose-tinged, with purple stripes.  The flowers are strongly 2-lipped, the upper lip appearing more or less hooded.  The lobes are glandular-hairy.  There are 5 calyx lobes, acute, equal and glandular.

Scarlet Bugler – Penstemon centranthifolius

Blooms:

Apr–July

Plant Height:

30–120 cm

Flower Size:

Large

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Dry, open or wooded, often disturbed places

Notes:

This is immediately recognizable, with its tall stems bearing pendulous, fiery red, tubular flowers.  Each is 2–3 cm long, with 5 about equal ovate to rounded lobes. Thick, lanceolate to ovate leaves clasp the stem.  Centranthus is the genus name of the common Red Valerian, and centranthifolius means valerian-leaved (the two plants have similar leaves).

Grinnell’s Penstemon – Penstemon grinnellii var. scrophularioides

Blooms:

Apr–July

Plant Height:

45–85 cm

Flower Size:

Medium–Large

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Dry slopes inland, usually above 500 m

Notes:

This has broad, pink or blue-violet tubular flowers, which expand abruptly from their base.  There are dark stripes on the lower lobe, and a distinctive “beard” on the exserted sterile stamen (the “tongue”).  This explains the alternative common name “Grinnell’s Beardtongue”.  The pink buds, abruptly expanding tube and  beard help to distinguish this species from Chaparral Penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus, see below).  Leaves are lanceolate, often arching, and dentate.

Chaparral Penstemon – Penstemon heterophyllus var. heterophyllus

Blooms:

Apr–July

Plant Height:

25–150 cm

Flower Size:

Medium–Large

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Dry slopes

Notes:

This has broad, bluish-purple tubular flowers, with three lobes on the lower lip.  The tube expands gradually from its base, and there is no “beard” on the tongue as there is in Grinnell’s Penstemon (Penstemon grinnellii, see above).  The yellow buds are a distinctive feature.  The plant is glabrous, with leaves that are linear to narrowly oblanceolate.

Hybrid Penstemon – Penstemon x.dubius

Blooms:

Apr–July

Plant Height:

45–85 cm

Flower Size:

Medium–Large

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Dry slopes inland, usually above 500 m

Notes:

This appears to be a hybrid between Grinnell’s Penstemon (Penstemon grinnellii) and Scarlet Bugler (Penstemon centranthifolius, see both above).  According to Jepson, this would be called Penstemon x.dubius, if recognized taxonomically.  It is regularly found near Black Butte off Tassajara Road, though there are some years when it is absent, and in its place there is nothing but Grinnell’s Penstemon.  The flowers have features of both putative parents, with a color that it is intermediate between them.  They have a beard on the tongue like Grinnell’s Penstemon (though less prominent), and lobes more like Scarlet Bugler.  Leaves are more like Grinnell’s Penstemon.  An intriguing plant!