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Showy Penstemon
Penstemon spectabilis
About Showy Penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis) Nurseries Show All Photos Showy Penstemon is native to southern California and Baja California, where it grows primarily in the chaparral, scrub, and woodlands of the Peninsular and Transverse ranges, and to central California, where it grows in the northeastern part of the South Coast Range. It is a perennial herb growing erect to a maximum height often exceeding one meter. The thin leaves are lance-shaped to oval, serrated on the edges, and up to 10 centimeters in length. The oppositely arranged pairs may fuse about the stem at the bases. The flower cluster bears wide-mouthed tubular purple-blue flowers which may be over 3 centimeters long. The throat is lighter in color, lavender to nearly white, and hairless inside. This plant is often a pioneer species in recently disturbed habitats. It is great for a bird garden and is pollinated by wasps as well as by hummingbirds.

Showy Penstemons are beautiful, fast growing, and easy to grow. Plants start producing spectacular hummingbird-attracting purple flowers their first year. They like full sun if planted in rocky, loamy or clay soils that hold moisture better, and part shade if planted in drier, sandier soils. It's best to plant on a slight slope or on flats that drain at least moderately well. They'll flower more abundantly with occasional summer water (1x per month), but may be shorter lived. If planted in an area that holds water better, like a flat with loamy or clay soil, or a slight slope with plenty of rocks, it's usually not necessary to give any supplementary summer water. Showy Penstemonts are fairly short lived even under the best of circumstances, typically lasting 5-10 years. It's still a great plant to grow in southern California, since they grow quickly, and will often self seed and pop up in nearby spots in your garden, particularly in partly shaded areas.
Plant Description
Plant Type
Perennial herb

Max. Height
2 - 4 ft (0.6 - 1.2 m)

Max. Width
3 - 4 ft (0.9 - 1.2 m)

Mounding, Upright Columnar


Growth Rate


Flower Color
Blue, Pink, Purple

Flowering Season

Native Status

Natural Setting
Site Type
Gentle rocky slopes and dry flats as part of chaparral or coastal sage scrub.


Elevation ?
221' - 10493'

Annual Precip. ?
4.5" - 49.8"

Summer Precip. ?
0.17" - 3.55"

Coldest Month ?
27.1° F - 55.4° F

Hottest Month ?
52.9° F - 81.0° F

Humidity ?
1.04 vpd - 32.06 vpd

Soil Description
Performs best and lives longest in well drained soil

Soil PH
6.0 - 7.5


Cold Tolerance(° F)
Tolerates cold to 0° F

Companion Plants
Sagebrush (Artemisia californica), San Diego Viguiera (Bahiopsis laciniata), California Encelia (Encelia californica), Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), Manzanita species, Scrub Oaks, and various annuals such as California Poppy.

Wildlife Attracted
Hummingbirds and other birds

Landscaping Information
Ease of Care
Moderately Easy

Water Requirement ?
Very Low
Extremely Low
Very Low
Moderate - High

Moderately Popular

Max. Summer Water ?
No Summer Water, 1x/month
No Summer Water
Keep moist

Organic with Rocks

Propagation ?
For propagating by seed: No treatment.

Common uses
Deer Resistant, Bird Gardens, Hummingbird Gardens, Butterfly Gardens, Bee Gardens

Nursery Availability
Commonly Available

Sources include: Wikipedia. All text shown in the "About" section of these pages is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Plant observation data provided by the participants of the California Consortia of Herbaria, Sunset information provided by Jepson Flora Project. Propogation from seed information provided by the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden from "Seed Propagation of Native California Plants" by Dara E. Emery. Sources of plant photos include CalPhotos, Wikimedia Commons, and independent plant photographers who have agreed to share their images with Calscape. Other general sources of information include Calflora, CNPS Manual of Vegetation Online, Jepson Flora Project, Las Pilitas, Theodore Payne, Tree of Life, The Xerces Society, and information provided by CNPS volunteer editors, with special thanks to Don Rideout. Climate data used in creation of plant range maps is from PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University, using 30 year (1981-2010) annual "normals" at an 800 meter spatial resolution.

Links:   Jepson eFlora Taxon Page  CalPhotos  Wikipedia  Calflora

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