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.

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' Penstemon (Penstemon jamesii)

Identifying characteristics of this flower 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. The Arizona penstemon, Penstemon ophianthus, is so similar that it has been classified as a subspecies of James'.  The "easy" way to distinguish the two is the fact that the fully developed flower on James' beardtongue is 24 to 35 mm long (roughly 1 to 1 1/3 inches), while the flower on the Arizona penstemon is smaller, 14 to 22 mm long (under 1 inch).


I didn't know this fact when I took the pictures, but the picture from the Sandia Mountain foothills includes part of my thumbnail, providing a scale. Based on that clue, the picture shows a James' beardtongue.  I had to eyeball the size of the penstemons on Mesa Portales, but they're probably also James'—the known range for P. ophianthus doesn't include Mesa Portales, and they're not reported from the adjacent Jemez Mountains.


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)


Birdeye or Persian Speedwell (Veronica persica)

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