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The West's national flower? Perhaps the penstemon.

Of the 270-plus species of penstemon that grow in North America, the vast majority are Western natives. If the West had a national flower, this would likely be it. Among these are summer-flowering perennials that excel in high mountains, desert, and lowlands. Almost any garden in the West can grow several kinds. The tubular flowers fall mostly in the red and blue range, but you'll also find peach, white, and even yellow ones. Pictured are a few choices; all grow to less than 18 inches. You can order seed or rooted cuttings to plant this month for bloom this summer or next, and beyond. Most live only a few years, but many self-sow. For penstemons, drought is no enemy Penstemons prefer gravelly, fast-draining soil and full sun, or light shade in hottest summer climates. Avoid planting in rich or water-retentive soil. Also avoid fertilizing, and go easy on summer watering unless the plant appears to need it. To germinate, some penstemon seeds must first be stratified (exposed to cold) for three weeks or so. Refrigerate them in a plastic sandwich bag with barely damp potting mix, then plant out. Most flower the second year after germination. Sources. For a choice of about a dozen plants, try Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery, 2825 Cummings Rd., Medford, Ore. 97501 (catalog $2). For seed of mountain penstemons, write to Rocky Mountain Rare Plants, Box 200483, Denver 80220 (fall catalog SI). Order seed of desert-loving kinds from Plants of the Southwest, 930 Baca St., Santa Fe 87501 (catalog $1.50). For a broad selection of common penstemons, join the American Penstemon Society (membership $10); ask for the new seed list-published this month. Write to the society, c/o Ann Bartlett, 1569 S. Holland Court, Lakewood, Colo. 80226.
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Date:Feb 1, 1991
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