The photo above shows the eye-popping color of cliff penstemon as seen on cliffs above Road #23 about 1/4 mile south of its intersection with Road #8810 on the southwestern side of Mt.Adams...................June 21, 2005.
Rock penstemons are especially attractive wildflowers with their glaucous foliage and hot pink flowers often perched in crevices on dark basalt cliff faces. They are a shrubby wildflower with prostrate to matted growth form. The leafy stems are up to 10 cm long. The bluish-glaucous leaves are ovate in shape with small to large teeth. The basal leaves are 8-18 mm long while the stem leaves are reduced in size up the stems.
The inflorescence is a few-flowered raceme at the distal end of the stems. The flowers are tightly clustered and tend to all flower towards one side of the stem. The glandular calyx is 6-11 mm long with elliptic sepals which narrow to acute tips. The sepals may be glaucous or reddish in color. The pink or deep rose corolla is a narrow tube from 2.5-3.7 cm in length with a narrow longitudinal ridge atop the tube. The mouth is broadly two-lipped with a largely non-bearded palate that has 2 ridges on it. The anther sacs are densely woolly-haired, the sacs each oval in shape and opposite. The staminode is mostly glabrous and found entirely within the tube.
This fine rock garden species is widely available at northwest nurseries specializing in native wildflowers. It needs good drainage and probably is a bit more tender than other native penstemons. Mine form large clusters, but typically the center of the cluster dies out over the winter. I prune out the dead stems and usually new growth fills in the open area by bloom time in May.
Rock penstemons are usually found at moderate to fairly high elevation in the Cascade Mts., although they may occur at much lower elevations in the Columbia River Gorge. They are typical plants of cliffs, ledges and rocky slopes.
Rock penstemon may be found on both sides of the Cascade Mts. from Kittitas County, WA south through Oregon into northern California. In the Klamath and Siskiyou country it may be found towards the coast.
In the Columbia River Gorge it may be found between the elevations of 100'-4700' from Cape Horn and Crown Point east to near Hood River, OR.