This section is from the book "The Native Flowers And Ferns Of The United States ", by Thomas Meehan. Also available from Amazon: The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States in Their Botanical, Horticultural, And Popular Aspects.
A foot or two high, including the elongated and racemiform strict many-flowered thyrsus: cauline leaves narrowly lanceolate (two or three inches long and lines wide); radical spatulate: peduncles one to three-flowered: sepals ovate or oblong, acute or obtuse, with somewhat scarious but entire margins: corolla with narrow proper tube of nearly twice the length of the calyx, abruptly dilated into the broadly campanulate throat of about one-third inch in height and width; this nearly equalled by the widely spreading lips; the lobes round-oval: sterile filament glabrous or minutely bearded at the dilated tip. (Gray's Synoptical Flora of North America. See also Porter's Flora of Colorado.)
FEW plants show the great progress or botanical discovery on our continent better than the genus Pentstemon, to which our present subject belongs. In the early part of the present century barely a dozen kinds were known. Between 1820 and 1830 the Royal Horticultural Society of London was in a very active condition, and it employed a remarkably acute and energetic collector, Douglas, to explore the Pacific coast in search of novelties that might add to the gayety of English gardens. During the few years that this distinguished man was engaged in this work, he added about twenty new Pentstemons to those already known. Following him came Drummond in Texas, and Nuttall, Fremont, and Long, till in 1845, when De Can-dolle's "Prodromus," containing the Pentstemons known to that time appeared, fifty-four species were described. In Dr. Gray's "Synoptical Flora of North America," issued in May, 1878, there are no less than seventy named and classified; and there is little doubt but that, as the country becomes still further explored, more will be added to the list. The species now illustrated, Pentstemon secundiflorus, was first found on the second expedition of Fremont, across the continent, in 1843-44, and was given the name it bears by the eminent botanist Bentham, after an examination of a dried specimen of Fremont's collecting from Dr. Torrey's Herbarium, who published it in 1845 in the work of De Candolle's, above cited. The genus is wholly American; one-third of the whole number known being native to California, and most of the others being found in the drier parts of the central regions of our country, chiefly in the Wahsatch and Rocky Mountain regions. The present species was found by Fremont in what is now known as Colorado. It extends southwardly along the mountains of this State into Arizona, and probably into New Mexico, but has not been found outside of this comparatively limited area, though a closely allied species, Pentstemon acutminatus, and with which this was once confounded, is found from Colorado across to California. The region of country where this and kindred Pentstemons are found is very dry, and the soil has a barren and parched appearance. Scarcely any of the flowers found there have any fragrance; but a large number are very showy, and give a gay feature to the scenery which enraptures the traveller. The Pentstemons aid particularly in the autumn beauty of this scenery, and especially the species we now describe, which, together with the allied Pentstemon acumi-natus is one of those most frequently met with. It grows in tufts, having several stems bearing flowers, and these are about eighteen or twenty inches high. Mr. Lunzer's drawing is of a fair average specimen, and from a plant brought by the writer of this from South Park, Colorado.
Many plants of the Rocky mountains, and regions further west, do not thrive well in Eastern gardens; but this one seems to make itself quite at home. A plant has grown, without much care, in an open, sunny place, from 1873 to 1878, when our drawing was made. The lower portions of the root-stock, however, in time become feeble, and it is best to take up and reset the plants a little deeper than they grew before, every second year or so; and it is a good plan to raise new plants from seed occasionally.
There are some peculiarities in its botanical characters that will interest the general observer. As already noted it was once supposed to be identical with another known as Pentstemon acuminatus. But our present species is strongly two-lipped, which Fig. 1 particularly well shows, while the other species has a. more nearly regularly divided corolla; and while that has a tube gradually tapering to the throat, the tube in this species tapers abruptly to the throat, as we see in Fig. 2. And then the other species has the flowers arranged regularly around the stem, while this, as we see in our drawing, has all the mouths of the flowers looking towards us, or one-sided - in botanical language they are secund. Why flowers should have this onesided habit of flowerine has not been examined till recently; but there is now good reason to believe that it is because each alternate flower twists in the opposite direction to the other. That is to say that there are two distinct lines of spiral growth in some plants, the one turning to the right, the other to the left, and which must of necessity result in a one-sided raceme. In the transition from leaves to flowers we may also see an interesting form of gradation, by no means uncommon, but yet worth noting in our specimen. The root-leaves and those on the barren shoots, as Fig. 3, are broader at the end than at the base; but as the branch proceeds to form the inflorescence, the apex becomes narrower than the base. It is of course well known that flowers are made up of modified primordial leaves. In our days we are getting an insight into the process, as well as having a knowledge of the fact; and one of these new pieces of knowledge is, that when a petal is formed from an original and, we will say, microscopic leaf, it is generally by a suppression of the elongating part or mid-rib, and a widening of the base. Thus, in an auriculate or eared leaf, it is the auricle, or, in some cases, the stipule, out of which the future petal is formed.
The Pentstemons have mostly showy flowers, among which are found white, scarlet, and purple in innumerable shades. There are few which would be called insignificant. Florists have taken them in hand, and besides the natural species now so numerous, many hybrid forms are found in gardens. In this work Texan and Mexican species have borne the chief part. The Rocky Mountain forms have not been long under cultivation, but will probably be as useful to the florists as their more southern brethren have been. In themselves, however, they have abundant attractions to the lovers of beauty, and the species now illustrated, with its bright, coppery-purple flowers, will be especially welcome.
The writer has found this and kindred species very easily raised from seed in Eastern gardens. It seems, on the whole, best to save the seed till spring, then to sow in a rather open place, but partially shaded until the seeds sprout, when they may have full exposure. The young plants will become very strong the same season, and flower the following summer.
The botanical collector as well as the flower-gardener may have beauty together with dry science in his preserved specimens. If properly attended to during the drying process, the colors are preserved in almost a natural condition, and these Rocky Mountain species especially are among the most attractive members of a botanist's herbarium.
1. The flower, showing its two-lipped character.
2. Section of the flower, showing its twisted stamens.
3. Barren branch, showing how the lower part of the leaves is narrowed, while the reverse is the case in the leaves of the flower-stem.