CPC Plant Profile: Blowout Penstemon
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Plant Profile

Blowout Penstemon (Penstemon haydenii)

Blooming in May and June, the large lavendar flowers of this species stand out amidst the sparse vegetation and sandy soils where they occur. Photo Credit: J. Stubbendieck
  • Global Rank: N/A
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Plantaginaceae
  • State: NE, WY
  • Nature Serve ID: 135060
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 01/01/1985

The Nebraska Sandhills is the largest dune field in the Western Hemisphere. While most of the dunes are mantled with prairie vegetation, wind erosion opens up areas of bare sand called blowouts. The blowout penstemon inhabits such places, only to disappear as grasses and forbs reclaim the blowout. Once thought to occur exclusively in Nebraska, this endangered species was recently discovered over 180 miles away on sand dunes in central Wyoming (Stubbendieck et. al. 2010, Heidel 2005). P. haydenii has large, pale blue, strongly fragrant flowers that grow in a cluster atop its leafy stems. These flowers bloom in mid-May to late June (USFWS 1992).

Participating Institutions
Jim Locklear
  • 01/15/2018

Lauritzen Gardens is working with a team of federal and state botanists to develop a plan for a systematic, range-wide seed banking effort for Penstemon haydenii. The effort will involve collecting seed samples from as many extant populations as is possible and prudent.

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

Narrowly endemic mainly to the Nebraska Sandhills Prairie, but also located in Wyoming where it is restricted to a unique habitat known as a 'blowout'. The species was more common in the sandhills before settlement, but control of fire and range management practices (especially dune stabilization) has reduced the amount of available habitat (blowouts). The resultant isolation of existing blowouts and populations has become a barrier to the dispersal of seeds to new blowouts. Even though populations of this species are separated from one another so that gene exchange is rare, genetic studies have revealed that populations do maintain a fine level of genetic variation, and it is believed that the high level of genetic variation exists because populations are occasionally refreshed by seeds with unique alleles from the seed bank (germination conditions favorable every 7 to 8 years). While populations are separated and bottlenecks have certainly occurred, this species which reproduces vegetatively most frequently, does have some ability to rebound in the face of environmental change since the seed bank harbors genetic potential. Further, it is known that this penstemon is self-incompatible and pollination from genetically different plants is required for seeds to be viable. Pollination studies have shown that pollinators were not in short supply at at least one of the study sites, but is it recommended that pollinators be encouraged if other sites are lacking them.

The most challenging aspect of evaluating the Blowout penstemon's conservation status is the high number of occurrences that are known; as of 2010 there are some 80 natural populations. Even though this number is quite high, precipitous population declines in the recent past are quite alarming. Finally, it should be noted that in cases where species occur in habitats that are 'habitat islands', genetically isolated from one another, defining each instance of the species as an occurrence is not an uncommon practice, but gives an inflated number of occurrences.

Jim Locklear
  • 01/01/2010

Threatened in Nebraska by habitat loss, natural succession, fire suppression, and erosion-reducing grazing practices that encourage the growth of grass cover. In Wyoming, threats include habitat loss from reclamation of sand dune areas, sand mining and of

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Taxon Penstemon haydenii
Authority S. Wats.
Family Plantaginaceae
CPC Number 3241
ITIS 33703
Common Names Blowout Penstemon | Blowout Beardtongue
Associated Scientific Names Penstemon haydenii
Distribution The blowout penstemon is one of the rarest and most endangered plant species in the United States. It is currently known from 10 naturally-occurring populations in the Nebraska Sandhills and from three populations on sand dunes in the Ferris Dunes of south-central Wyoming. Approximately 22 artificially-planted populations persist in the Nebraska Sandhills from earlier restoration trials.
State Rank
State State Rank
Nebraska S1
Wyoming S1

Blowout penstemon is limited to the sandhills region of west-central Nebraska and sand dune habitat in the northeastern Great Divide Basin in Wyoming. In Nebraska this plant typically occurs in "blowouts"-- sparsely vegetated depressions in active sand dunes created by wind erosion. In Wyoming, it occurs on sandy aprons or the lower half of steep sandy slopes deposited at the base of granitic or sedimentary mountains or ridges (USNRC 2009).

Ecological Relationships

Blowout penstemon is an early succession species of open sandy habitat which disappears from revegetated sites. It was reported to be locally abundant in the Nebraska sandhills in the early 20th century, when there was considerably more open habitat (Pool 1914). Pollinators in Nebraska are primarily megachilid bees, along with wasps, ants, beetles, butterflies and flies (Lawson et al. 1989).

Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID
Anthophorine bees Hapropoda Confirmed Pollinator Link
Bumble bees Bombus Link
Sweat bees Halictidae Link
Leaf-cutting bees Osmia Link

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