FIGWORT FAMILY - ScrophulariaceaŽ: Hairy Beard-tongue

Pentstemon hirsutus (P. pubescens)

Flowers--Dull violet or lilac and white, about 1 in. long, borne in a loose spike. Calyx 5-parted, the sharply pointed sepals overlapping; corolla, a gradually inflated tube widening where the mouth divides into a 2-lobed upper lip and a 3-lobed lower lip; the throat nearly closed by hairy palate at base of lower lip; sterile fifth stamen densely bearded for half its length; 4 anther-bearing stamens, the anthers divergent. Stem: 1 to 3 ft. high, erect, downy above. Leaves: Oblong to lance-shaped, upper ones seated on stem; lower ones narrowed into petioles.

Preferred Habitat--Dry or rocky fields, thickets, and open woods.

Flowering Season--May-July.

Distribution--Ontario to Florida, Manitoba to Texas.

It is the densely bearded, yellow, fifth stamen (pente = five, stemon = a stamen) which gives this flower its scientific name and its chief interest to the structural botanist. From the fact that a blossom has a lip in the centre of the lower half of its corolla, that an insect must use as its landing place, comes the necessity for the pistil to occupy a central position. Naturally, a fifth stamen would be only in its way, an encumbrance to be banished in time. In the figwort, for example, we have seen the fifth stamen reduced, from long sterility, to a mere scale on the roof of the corolla tube; in other lipped flowers, the useless organ has disappeared; but in the beard-tongue, it goes through a series of curious curves from the upper to the under side of the flower to get out of the way of the pistil. Yet it serves an admirable purpose in helping close the mouth of the flower, which the hairy lip alone could not adequately guard against pilferers. A long-tongued bee, thrusting in his head up to his eyes only, receives the pollen in his face. The blossom is male (staminate) in its first stage and female (pistillate) in its second. A western species of the beard-tongue has been selected by gardeners for hybridizing into showy but often less charming flowers.