Habit: slender penstemon is a graceful perennial herb with delicate flowers and foliage. Its many, upright flowering stems along with shorter sterile shoots grow from a woody crown and form a clump at the base. It has widely spaced green to whitish, waxy leaves which grow up to 4 inches long. The shape of the leaves varies from spatulate to linear to lance-shaped; the margins are entire. In early to mid-summer, when the plant is in bloom, the attractive inflorescence comes into sight. Flowers are arranged in whorls of 2 to 4 and attached to stems with short, glandular stalks. 3 to 5 well spaced whorls form each panicle. The corolla is bluish-purple to pale lavender, tubular and bears a wide, lobed mouth, which is divided into two shallow lips. The interior of the flower is typically whitish and hairy, while the outside is glandular and covered with a waxy bloom.
Ecology: it is common in the understory of pine forests, on sagebrush plateau, lava flats and granite mountain slopes, from 900 to 2,800 feet of elevation. Its native habitat ranges from southern Oregon to northeastern California and northwestern Nevada, extending southward to Lake Tahoe. Isolated communities can be found in northern Oregon, east of the Cascades.
Growing conditions: slender penstemon is well adapted for sunny or partially shaded locations, and does best in dry, well-drained soils. It makes an excellent addition for a butterfly garden. It attracts bees and hummingbirds as well.
Although “graceful penstemon” is one of the common names used for Penstemon gracilentus, the scientific name “gracilentus” actually means “slender and flexible”, referring to the thin, rather bare stems. However, considering that the plant is indeed quite elegant, it can be rightfully called “graceful”.