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Blowout penstemon in bloom on a sandy ridge with prairie in the background.

Blowout Penstemon

The blowout penstemon is only found in a small area of Nebraska and Wyoming where significant active sand dunes are found. Blowout penstemon has fragrant flowers, which is unusual for penstemons.

Penstemon haydenii

Identification

The blowout penstemon, or Hayden’s penstemon, is a perennial plant that grows on prairie sandhills. The plant is 1-2 ft/0.3-0.6 m tall with one or many stems. The flowering stems have waxy, greenish-blue leaves that curve upwards with 6-10 groups of light blue or pale lavender tubular flowers. Blowout penstemon flowers from May to early July, fruits from mid-June to mid-July, and releases seeds from late August to September. Each fruit has about 25-35 seeds, and each plant can release up to 1,500 seeds. However, not every plant blooms every year. The plant is pollinated primarily by bees, but it can also be pollinated by wasps, ants, butterflies, beetles, and flies. Currently, the only known populations of blowout penstemon, a federally listed Endangered species, occur in the Nebraska sandhills and south-central Wyoming.

Observation Tips

The blowout penstemon is found in sparse clusters on active blowouts, crater-like depressions caused by wind erosion, and within choppy sand dunes. Population sizes range from 25 to over 2,000 plants. They are found on steep, northwest-facing slopes in blowouts, often on sparsely vegetated dunes. Some other plants that might grow in the same habitat are the lemon scurfpea and blowout grass.

Interesting Fact

The blowout penstemon is only found in a small area of Nebraska and Wyoming where significant active sand dunes are found. Blowout penstemon has fragrant flowers, which is unusual for penstemons.

Ideal Habitat

The blowout penstemon is restricted to choppy sand dunes and sand blowout habitats. It grows in active blowouts, areas of wind-blown sand movement. Blowouts require actively shifting and eroding sand and are often sparsely vegetated. They are found in areas with 25-40% vegetative cover. As more plants colonize the sandhill, it becomes harder for the penstemon to compete, and the penstemon will usually be gradually eliminated.

Blowout penstemon range map. Range is small portions of Wyoming and Nebraska.

Range Map provided by US Department of Ag, PLANTS Database

Management Activities that Benefit Species – Best Management Practices (BMPs)

Since many of the blowout penstemon populations occur on private land, landowners have an important role to play in the survival of the species. Penstemon populations are very vulnerable to habitat loss. Habitat for blowout penstemon can be maintained by allowing wind erosion, fire, and grazing to maintain occupied blowouts. Livestock grazing can benefit blowout penstemon by reducing competing plants and decreasing stabilization at the edges of blowouts, maintaining their active nature. Historically, blowouts were created through natural fires and grazing. Controlled burns every few years can help maintain early successional habitats on sandhills that favor the blowout penstemon.

Management Activities to Avoid

Avoid activities that will advance succession and stabilization in occupied blowout penstemon areas. Also, avoid off-highway motor vehicle (OHV) use in areas with occupied blow penstemon populations.

Other Species that Benefit from Similar Habitat Management

Kangaroo rat, bee pollinators, and other species that occur in sand blowout habitat will benefit from management for blowout penstemon.

Download

Download the Blowout penstemon factsheet

Descarga la ficha de campanitas de Hayden

Other Resources

Bureau of Land Management. 2005. Survey of Penstemon haydenii (Blowout Penstemon) in Wyoming

NatureServe, 2019. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1.  NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Blowout penstemon

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Blowout Penstemon

University of Nebraska, Lincoln. 2007. Blowout Penstemon (Penstemon haydenii)

US Department of Agriculture, NRCS. 2020. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901, USA. Blowout penstemon

US Fish and Wildlife Service. Blowout Penstemon

US Forest Service (USFS). Restoring Blowout Penstemon (Penstemon haydenii) in Nebraska

Photo Credit: Melvin Nenneman, USFWS/Flickr

 

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