CPC Plant Profile: Gibbens' Beardtongue
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Plant Profile

Gibbens' Beardtongue (Penstemon gibbensii)

View of the perennial in sparse rocky habitat. Note the small blue flowers held at the top of the stems. Photo Credit: Carol Dawson
  • Global Rank: G1 - Critically Imperiled
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Plantaginaceae
  • State: CO, UT, WY
  • Nature Serve ID: 154955
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 03/08/1989

Plants in the genus Penstemon are known for their showy floral displays. However, P. gibbensii has very small, inconspicuous flowers. This uncharacteristic trait may be an indication of the environment that P. gibbensii occupies--the dry, cold steppe regions of Colorado and Wyoming on barren shale are nutritionally poor. (Dorn 1990) Typically, Gibbens beardtongue flowers from early June to late September, depending on moisture conditions. The corolla is bluish-purple, containing hairy stamen and anthers. The stems and leaves are also hairy. The lanceolate, cauline leaves are opposite and the basal leaves tend to be narrow and deciduous. (Von Bargen 1997 and Dorn 1990) Penstemon gibbensii was first collected by Robert Gibbens, a student in Range Management at the University of Wyoming, in the early 1970's. The specimens he collected were sent out for identification to a Penstemon specialist and unfortunately lost. This plant was collected in Moffat County, Colorado in 1978 and rediscovered in Wyoming in 1981 by Robert Dorn who tentatively placed it under Penstemon saxosorum in the Manual of the Vascular Plants of Wyoming in 1977. (Dorn 1990) There have been rumors of taxonomic problems but the Rocky Mountain Herbarium does recognize this as a distinct species.

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  • 09/23/2020
  • Genetic Research

Gibson (1991) compared Penstemon gibbensii and Penstemon penlandii using allozymes.

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

Known only from southcentral Wyoming, northwestern Colorado, and adjacent northeastern Utah. This endemic species is restricted to a particular soil type and is intrinsically rare. Its numbers have declined sharply at two monitoring sites, and it is threatened by trampling and weed encroachment associated with off-road vehicles and grazing, as well as by habitat loss related to oil and gas development.

Michelle DePrenger-Levin
  • 01/01/2010

Threats include: Off-road vehicle use Grazing (antelope, etc.) Oil and gas exploration (Dorn 1990)

Michelle DePrenger-Levin
  • 01/01/2010

There are four known populations. The type population in Sweetwater Co., Wyoming is a single site. The Colorado-Utah Brown's Park population is known from four sites extending across around 9 miles. The Sand Creek population is about 4.5 miles from the Type population and consists of about eight small populations across 2 miles of land. The Flat Top Mountain population is a single site about 12 miles north of the Sand Creek population. In total there are an estimated 2,800 plants in Wyoming, 4,000 in Colorado and 700 in Utah, for a total of 7500. (Dorn 1990)

Michelle DePrenger-Levin
  • 01/01/2010

Gibson (1991) compared Penstemon gibbensii and Penstemon penlandii using allozymes.

Michelle DePrenger-Levin
  • 01/01/2010

Some sites were fenced and monitored as of 1990. (Dorn 1990)

Michelle DePrenger-Levin
  • 01/01/2010

Currently, P. gibbensii is not protected. Management needs include identifying any potential biological vulnerability that may warrant legal protection. Research needs include aspects of this species reproductive biology and ecology and population dynamics (Dorn 1990). Pollination mechanisms. Germination requirements.

Michelle DePrenger-Levin
  • 01/01/2010

Seed collection and storage.


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Taxon Penstemon gibbensii
Authority Dorn
Family Plantaginaceae
CPC Number 3236
ITIS 504212
Common Names Gibben's beardtongue | Gibbens' beardtongue | Gibbson's beardtongue | Gibbens beardtongue
Associated Scientific Names Penstemon gibbensii
Distribution Colorado, Wyoming and Utah (Dorn 1990)
State Rank
State State Rank
Colorado S1
Utah S1
Wyoming S1

Sparsely vegetated shale or sandy-clay slopes of the Browns Park Formation. Surrounding vegetation is pinyon-juniper woodland, sagebrush or greasewood-saltbush. Elev. 5500-7700 ft. (Spackman 1997)Associated with Chrysothamnus sp., Oxytropis nana var. obnapaformis, Eriogonum sp., Wyethia scabra, Commandre umbellate, Leptodactylon sp. (Anderson 1990)

Ecological Relationships

This local endemic has evolved to exploit a sparsely-vegetated, severe site, and is one of the few plants in its habitat that flowers in response to moisture. The plant will not persist in the presence of high competition from other species. (Dorn 1990) Dorn (1990) found some evidence of grazing by antelope on a number of plants at different sites.

Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID
Lead Institution State Reintroduction Type Year of First Outplanting

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