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.