Photo of the Week – May 12, 2017

When you look closely at Penstemon angustifolius, it’s easy to see why one of its common names is narrowleaf beardtongue.

Narrowleaf beardtongue is a widespread Great Plains wildflower that can have blue, lavender, or pink flowers – often, all on the same plant.  It is attractive to look at, and also (apparently) attractive to a number of pollinators as well.  The mason bee below was visiting the beardtongue growing in our backyard prairie this week.  According to Mike Arduser, there are some mason bees that specialize on penstemons, but from this photo, he couldn’t tell for sure if this is one of them.

A mason bee visits beardtongue blossoms – note the pollen stored on the underside of its abdomen rather than the strategy employed by most bees of storing pollen on their hind legs.

There are about 250 species of penstemon, most with very showy flowers.  Penstemons are popular in the horticulture world and you can read about the American Penstemon Society and other associated information here, if you’re interested.  I’m not interested in cultivating new varieties of penstemon – I just enjoy seeing the various species we find here in Nebraska.  If you’re not familiar with them, keep your eyes open; most of them will be blooming from now through about mid-June.


About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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6 Responses to Photo of the Week – May 12, 2017

  1. shoreacres says:

    I wondered if the color of the flowers was being reflected by the bee, but an image search suggests some mason bees have hints of blue in their appearance. The flowers are beautiful. I’m always intrigued by flowers that exhibit colors all along that purple/pink/blue spectrum.

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  3. James McGee says:

    “Husker Red” Penstemon digitalis has been popular across the country for a long time.

    It is too bad you are not interested in cultivating other varieties. Two favorites of myself and the hummingbirds are Penstemon cardinalis and Penstemon murrayanus.

  4. Lou says:

    Absolutely beautiful! Love the bee at work. Penstemons were probably the first wildflower that I noticed growing up in the sandhills of Northeast Colorado. My family used the common name of blue bells to describe them, although that name was a little problematic when the penstemons were white.

  5. Excellent shot of the bee. Not one I’ve seen in Ohio, beautiful!

  6. Kim says:

    Such beautiful flowers; Penstemons are a favorite of mine; thanks for sharing these stunning photos!


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