Parry's penstemon plant (Penstemon parryi), also called the desert penstemon, is a short-lived small shrub or herbaceous perennial that lives three to five years. It blooms in early to mid-spring, attracting hummingbirds. It often remains evergreen if winter temperatures are not too cold. Grow Parry's penstemon in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 8 through 10.
Parry's penstemon is native to southern Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora. It occurs at elevations of 1,500 to 5,000 feet in the high deserts, according to Pima County Master Gardeners.
All penstemons are flowering plants (angiosperms) and dicotyledons (dicots) because their germinating seeds yield two leaves and develop into plants with branching vein structures. Parry's penstemon belongs to to the figwort family, Scrophulariaceae. It's a close relative of snapdragon, butterfly bush and bacopa.
Parry's penstemon forms lance- or spoon-shaped leaves at the base and oblong, medium-green leaves on the upper reaches of the upright green to pale burgundy stems. Theses leaves have a leathery texture and can also take on a gray-green color. From early to mid-spring tall spikes of loosely spaced vivid coral-salmon to rose-magenta flowers appear. Each blossom is funnel-shaped. Following pollination, small pods form from the flowers, teeming with many tiny black seeds. These seeds are scattered into the landscape where many seedlings casually sprout. Adult plants reach 2 to 4 feet tall and 1 to 3 feet wide according to "Sunset Western Garden Book."
Plant Parry's penstemon in a full sun exposure in the garden for development of best habit and abundant flowering. It needs a well-draining soil, not acidic in pH. Overall it is quite adaptable to soil types as long as they are crumbly in texture and not overly wet, according to the Pima County Master Gardeners and Arizona Wildflower website. Amend sandy soils with organic matter and irrigate in the heat of summer to result in better flowering the following spring. Cut off spent flower spikes to prevent self-sowing in your garden.
Use Penstemon parryi for sunny rock gardens or xeriscape (water-conservation) gardens where colorful flower displays are welcome to disrupt the typical drab gray and green hues of other plants. Parry's penstemon naturalizes easily because of its ability to self-sow and is suitable for a dry meadow or hillside garden design. It can also be incorporated into a mixed flower or shrub border alongside plants with similar needs of abundant sunlight and well-draining soils.