Plant of the Month – Penstemon
– Liz Parsons, Milo Baker Vice President
I first became aware of the genus Penstemon when traveling through the western states. The flowers are very showy and hard to miss as you hike or drive. They can be found in the desert, mountains meadows, chaparral, and in alpine scree. The two-lipped flowers come in such a variety of colors— red, blue, pink, purple, and occasionally white and yellow. The large tubular flowers bloom on a long raceme, whorl or panicle and the vivid colors attract the gardener with thoughts of taming this showy native and bringing it home. Penstemons are herbaceous perennial plants which are difficult to transplant, so collecting seeds is the best propagation method. Cuttings can be taken once it is growing in the garden. A full sun location with excellent drainage and some summer water are all they need to be happy. They begin to bloom in mid-summer and can continue until frost if you continue to water them. They are hardy and resist frost in Sonoma County. They are not susceptible to specific pests or disease. Deer don’t tend to eat them.
Illustration by Liz Parsons
When I first studied botany, the Penstemons were classified in the Scrophulariaceae or Figwort Family, but they were reclassified and are now in the Plantaginaceae or Plantain Family.
Penstemons have a sterile fifth stamen (a staminode) that is often hairy and is unique to each species, hence the common name Beardtongue. According to the Jepson Manual, the Penstemons are the largest genus of flowering plants endemic to North America. Most are found in the western states and 58 species and various varieties are found in California.
Here is information about the Penstemons that we sold at our fall sale:
One of the most popular is Penstemon heterophyllus. It is a low growing plant with vivid blue flowers and narrow glossy leaves. At the sale we had the straight species, P. heterophyllus and the variety P h. ‘Margarita BOP’. Other varieties that are common at local nurseries are ‘Blue Bedder’ and ‘Blue Springs’. You are likely to see this species as you hike locally because it is native to the North Coast Range and the San Francisco Bay area.
The two tall species that we sold were Penstemon palmeri and P. spectabilis. Both are spectacular additions to any garden scene. P. palmeri can grow to 5 feet or more and it has fragrant pale pink flowers. P. spectabilis lives up to its name and is a spectacular sight in the garden. Many stalks of bright lavender to blue flowers emerge from grey-green serrated leaves.
The final plant that we sold at the sale was Keckiella cordifolia or Heart-leaved Penstemon. The genus Keckiella indicates that it is a woody subshrub. Heart-leaved, does indeed have heart shaped leaves, and has red to red-orange flowers and long branches that can grow as long as 6 feet. They often need to be supported because they aren’t very woody. It often grows with other shrubs that support the rather weak, floppy branches.
There is an American Penstemon Society and you can find it with a Google search. Calscape from the California Native Plant Society also features plants that are found in California.
California Conservation Report
– Wendy Smit, Milo Baker Conservation Committee
Every month the CNPS State Conservation staff holds a Zoom call with all interested chapter members and Conservation Committee chairs. In early January Nick Jensen reported that the 2022 Federal bill to expand the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument to include Molok Luyuk (Walker Ridge in Lake County) has died along with the last Congress. He hopes that through the Antiquities Act, this area can be preserved without Congressional action, during Biden’s tenure. Watch for more information in the Flora edition.
Sam Young reported that the IPA (Important Plant Areas) maps are now available for our viewing pleasure. Go to cnps.org/conservation/important-plant-areas to view them. Sam and Jun Bando (new ED) attended the COP meeting in Montreal in December and they had impressive meetings with international and state officials fighting for global bio-diversity.
CNPS Legislative Analyst Alvaro Casanova will be releasing a 2 module Legislative Advocacy Training. These will be available for free to anyone. The training will cover the legislative process, how a bill becomes law and also how to engage with officials and legislators including tips on how to effectively communicate, set up meetings, etc. Stay tuned for registration details this spring.
Much more information was covered. Everyone is welcome to listen in the first Tuesday morning of the month. E-mail Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org to add your contact information to the invitation list.
– Liz Parsons, Milo Baker Vice President
Edith Newsome was a good friend to me and the Milo Baker Chapter. When she died on September 29, at the age of 94, she left the chapter $2,000.00. Edith loved hiking and she loved the wildflowers. She was active in the Sierra Club and the CNPS. She contributed to the chapter activities for many years. Edith knew where to find every wildflower in Sonoma Valley Regional Park and in Jack London State Park. Every year, she and I would go in search of the Redwood Lily (Lilium rubescens) in Jack London State Park. We were always so excited to find the tall plants growing in the sunny patches along the trail.
Edith organized the Monday Walkers. In the 1980’s, John and Pauline Gilbert began the tradition of a group of retired Milo Baker members walking together on Mondays. When John and Pauline were no longer able to organize the group, Edith took over and until 2019 a sturdy group of 5 to 8 of us would set out every Monday to go to the coast or the redwoods or one of the many Sonoma County parks. I am afraid that without Edith to phone and organize, the group will fade into history.
Edith was born in Germany in 1928 and immigrated to the United States in 1951. She worked as a nanny for many years until she married Milton Newsome and moved to Kenwood where she lived for many years before moving to Oakmont in 1998. Her complete obituary can be found in the October 16 Press Democrat.
Plant Walks Resume in 2023
– Ruthie Saia, Milo Baker Plant Walk Coordinator
Plant Walks are coming soon! Fabulous Fern Forays in February, please check the website for more details. To sign up for email alerts contact Milobakerevents@gmail.com
2023 North Bay Science Discovery Day – Volunteers Needed
– Milo Baker Chapter Education/Outreach Committee
When: Saturday, March 11, 2023 | 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Please sign up for Volunteer Opportunities #1 or #2 listed below:
Volunteer Opportunity #1
Location: Sonoma County Fairgrounds
We need volunteers to meet us at the shed behind the Luther Burbank Art & Garden Center on Yulupa Ave. to load materials from the shed into one or more cars/vans/trucks. We plan to arrive at the fairgrounds around 3:00 where the NBSDD organizers will open a gate for exhibiters. We are likely to be finished with the setup by 5:30 pm. (It could possibly take longer.)
Date/Time: Saturday March 11 from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm
To sign up for one or more shifts - please CALL Virginia at 707-217-9815 or email Catherine email@example.com with your contact information and we’ll send you instructions. Detailed information about locations will be supplied by March 1. THANK YOU for signing up for one or more shifts to help us make NBSDD a big success!
Volunteer Opportunity #2
We need you to bring us plant specimens!!! List of plants to collect (from your own property) for NBSDD – by Fri. March 10 or Sat March 11.
Please bring native plant specimens to the fairgrounds on Friday. evening 4:00 to 5:30 pm OR Sat. morning 9:00 to 10:00 am. If you can’t drop things off at the fairgrounds – please arrange to drop off at Virginia’s place in Santa Rosa or Catherine’s place in Sebastopol – whichever is closer. Detailed times/location of drop-offs to be announced by March 1.
Native plant specimens needed: For our exhibit table, we need leaves/needles, branches/stems, roots/rhizomes/bulbs, and seeds of native plants from our region. You can trim or clip materials from your own yard OR bring potted specimens – make sure that if you bring pots with live plants, you LABEL each plant clearly so we can return it afterwards!
Perennials: ferns, heuchera, marah (manroot), buckwheat, lupine, iris, monardella, Phacelia, salvia, triteleia, wyethia, succulents.
Virginia, Catherine, Susan, and April are taking care of oaks, redwood, pine, firs, and willow already. THANK YOU for finding diverse specimens that show the biodiversity that thrives in oak woodlands! Native plants you think of that we left off this list are also welcome. And remember – ONLY collect these leaves, stems/bark, roots/rhizomes/bulbs, and seeds from your own property or from a neighbor’s property with their permission. DO NOT collect from parks!!!
Ongoing Volunteer Opportunities
This is a photo of the Kiwanis group that came out to Doran Beach on 11/11 to pull ice plant. They were fantastic and had members of the high school club with them as well. They have cleared over 1000 sq. ft.!!!
Living Learning Landscapes Workday – second Friday of the month (9:30 am - noon). Meet at 1808 Albany Drive in Santa Rosa. Please RSVP to April Owens firstname.lastname@example.org so we know to expect you!
Weekly Doran Beach Ice Plant Removal – every Wednesday (9:30 am - 11:30 am). Meet at 9:30 at the Cypress Day Use parking lot, west end. Bring clippers and gloves and knee pads if you like. One of the most pleasant workdays happens every week – a trip to Doran Beach to pull ice plant. We are clearing out the ice plant that is in the marshland to make room for natives. It is very visual and quite satisfying, with the sound of the waves, birds and foghorn.
Bodega Head Ice Plant Removal Project – second Sunday of each month (10:00 am - 1:00 pm). CNPS is leading volunteers at Bodega Head to save native species from getting smothered by ice plant. Meet at the main parking lot near the bathrooms. Bring water, clippers and gloves if you have them. Text Alynn at 707-321-1748 for more information and to let us know that you are coming.
For more information, please visit the Volunteer Opportunities page on our website.