New Mexico Wildflowers: Plantain Family



Following recent DNA studies, the penstemons have been moved from the Figwort family to this family. Flowers are organized alphabetically by genus and species. Hover over a photo series to control the images.

Dalmatian Toadflax (Linaria dalmatica)

If you look at these flowers and think "butter-and-eggs," that's very understandable, but butter-and-eggs are a different species of Linaria. One way to tell them apart is to notice how the stems of Dalmatian toadflax are thick with broad, sturdy pointed leaves.


Sand or Bush Penstemon (Penstemon ambiguus)

This penstemon thrives by the sides of highways, where disturbed soil receives supplemental moisture that has run off the adjacent blacktop. The flower color ranges from lavender to white, including on the same plant.


Broad-beard or Narrowleaf Penstemon (Penstemon angustifolius)

Broad-beard, narrowleaf, penstemon, angustifolius, Mesa Portales, New Mexico
Mesa Portales, June 2015


Scarlet Bugler, Beard-lip Penstemon (Penstemon barbatus)


These penstemons vie with Indian paintbrush as the signature red flower of the Southwest's uplands. Look for flowers hanging from a wand-like stem, and narrow leaves below.


From a distance it's easy to confuse red penstemons with skyrockets (in the phlox family). If you look "down their throats," as shown in the thumbnail picture, the difference is obvious. Penstemons look like an open animal's mouth to me, but skyrockets look like a five-pointed star.


Inflated Penstemon (Penstemon inflatus)

On this penstemon, note the white throat and the "tongue" that is bearded for half its length and does not stick out of the flower.


James'/Arizona Penstemon (or Beardtongue) (Penstemon jamesii, P. ophianthus)

Arizona penstemons (Penstemon ophianthus) and James' penstemons (Penstemon jamesii) are so similar that at times, the former have been classified as a subspecies of the latter. If you must know which species you're looking at, the fully developed flower on the James' is 24 to 35 mm long (roughly 1 to 1 1/3 inches), while the flower on the Arizona is smaller, 14 to 22 mm long (under 1 inch). My photos are from chance encounters, without measurements, hence my decision to lump the two species. For both the Arizona and the James', identifying characteristics include the "inflated" look to the flower tube, the streaks of darker color, and the yellow beardtongue (sterile stamen) that sticks out beyond the flower tube. 


Pineleaf Penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius)

Yes, these flowers look a lot like the ones on scarlet buglers (Penstemon barbatus). You can tell those two species apart by noticing that the leaves on pineleaf penstemon look more like pine needles than the scarlet bugler's "flat" leaves. Besides, pineleaf penstemons are mostly confined to southwest New Mexico and extreme southeastern Arizona. As opposed to scarlet buglers, which you'll find all over the Southwest. There is a patch of pineleaf penstemons at the Rio Grande Nature Center in Albuquerque, which is how I got these photos.


Desert Penstemon (Penstemon pseudospectabilis)

In New Mexico, these lovely penstemons are confined to the southwest part of the state. They extend from there west through Arizona and into California. Within that range, they're confined to below 7000 feet (2130 m). Fortunately for me, I can enjoy an introduced patch at the Rio Grande Nature Center in Albuquerque. To make the ID, note the striking flower color and the toothed "clasping" leaves. The "clasping" part of that refers to the way that the leaves surround the stems, forming a double-pointed leaf with no petiole (leaf stem). 


Rydberg's Penstemon (Penstemon rydbergii)

The Rydberg's penstemons in the Valle Grande (the central valley of the VCNP) are pretty much at the southeast end of that species' range. Look for blue to purple penstemon flowers that are on the small side, arranged in clusters (which go all the way around the stem) at intervals along the stem.


Sidebells Beardtongue? (Penstemon secundiflorus)

During the drought in the first half of 2022, I came across a patch of small, struggling penstemons that had put out a few tiny flowers. Difficult to be certain of the ID when the plant is in such poor shape.


Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus)

My ID of these Rocky Mountain penstemons is based on the narrow leaves in "opposite" pairs (meaning that they spring out of the stem at the same height), the non-hairy leaves and flowers, and the deeply notched lower lobes on the flowers.


Wandbloom Penstemon (Penstemon virgatus)

Many images of wandbloom penstemons, including my own from the Pino Trail, show the flowers as purple. Apparently there's also a variant where the flowers are white with purple streaks. Littlefield and Burns' book shows the lighter variant.


Dusky Penstemon (Penstemon whippleanus)


English Plantain (Plantago Lanceolata)

As the name suggests, an introduced species.


Common Plantain (Plantago major)

Water Speedwell (Veronica anagallis-aquatica)

Water speedwell is an Old World species that is widespread there, and now in the New World as well. You'll find it at the edges of permanent streams. In the Albuquerque area, you can see it where Carlito Springs emerges and begins flowing down the hill.


A native species, American speedwell, looks very similar. One way to tell them apart is the leaves. American speedwell leaves have short petioles (leaf stems). As you can see in one of my photos, water speedwell leaves are sessile (attached directly to the stems) and somewhat clasping (they partly surround the stems at the attachment point).


Birdeye or Persian Speedwell (Veronica persica)

In the mostly gentle winter of 2021, I saw these low-lying "weeds" blooming as early as February.