Habit: this lovely penstemon has a compact, branched, woody base and few to numerous slender stems. Its foliage is bright green, thick and firm; the surface of the leaves is typically hairy. Basal leaves are lance to spoon-shaped, and up to 4 inches long, including a long petiole (leafstalk); margins are entire or sparingly serrated. Cauline leaves are smaller, narrower and lack petioles. Inflorescence stems grow 4-12 inches long and present fine hairs right below a spike-like arrangement of flowers. 3-5 whorls of glandular, blue-violet blossoms form each spike. Individual flowers are supported by a pointed calyx and short stalks. The corolla is an extended 2-lipped tube, which is hairy inside and distinctively lobed at the mouth. The plant blooms from May to June.
Ecology: Penstemon elegantulus grows on open, grassy or rocky ridges, as well as on high slopes and open woods. It is an endemic species of northeastern Oregon and northwestern Idaho. It is mainly found on both sides of Hell’s Canyon, overlooking the Snake River.
Growing conditions: Penstemon elegantulus enjoys sunny, open spaces and rocky soils. Its delicate flowers provide early summer interest to a rock garden or perennial border.
Due to extensive grazing, road construction and other disturbances, the rockvine penstemon habitat has become highly susceptible to invasion by several introduced weed species, including yellow starthistle, whitetop, and spotted knapweed. These are aggressive invasive species, with the potential to displace native plants in disturbed geographical areas.