June 14th, 2009 - Beard-tongued dragons going wild...!

I was driving our little John Deere six-wheeled "Gator" around at Springbrook on Friday night, (as I was going out the door I told the secretary that I "was taking it to the creek," one of the junior leaders overheard and said, horrified, "You're taking an alligator to the creek...?!") looking to pick up some thistle for the butterflies, and rocks for our "pond." (Think "fountain.")
As I bounced along the overgrown trail that parallels the creek, I was floored by two largely-flowered plants growing in the sand prairie where nothing else was flowering yet.
I know I had seen these flowering plants before, but my memory for plant names being what it is (or isn't, I pretty much have to re-learn them every season) I had to take some photos so I could look them up when I got back. Not that I wouldn't have taken some photos anyway, they were stunning plants - somewhat on the order of our Minnesota state flower - the "Showy Lady's Slipper" or "Pink & White Lady’s Slipper" or "Queen’s Lady Slipper" or simply the Cypripedium reginae, depending on who you talk to, but not all closed up like a slipper.
I checked it out when I got home and am pretty sure it was a Penstemon grandiflorus, or "Large-Flowered Penstemon" or even flowerier, "Large-flowered Beardtongue," or even gothier, "Large-flower Beardtounge" if you really want to go Old Worldy on it.
However you spell it or pronounce it, it is a member of the Snapdragon (Scrophulariaceae) (say that three times fast) family. Also known as the Figwort family, which is the same but sounds so much more Harry Potter-like. Conversely, "Lady Slippers" are in the orchid familiadae, and are not available in your favorite department store's footware section. They may be found under "Home & Garden" if you are lucky however.
Be that as it may, it is a beautiful flower. The "bearded-tongue" thing comes from one of it's five stamens or "tongues" being sterile and having a tufted, beard-like appearance. Appropriate for a dragon, I'd say. In addition there are four fertile stamens, hence the generic name Penstemon, from the Greek paene, meaning "almost", and stamon, meaning "thread" or both together, "almost a stamen." The specific name grandiflorus means "large-flowered" in botanical Latin.
I could have told you that.

Another interesting and unanswered connection involved here brings us back to July 2nd, 2008, where I posted a pic of an unopened mysterious pink eggplant-shaped flower I could not identify (go figure) and my dear sister Bethy later suggested it was a Prairie Beard-Tongue, (Penstemon eriantherus) according to her "Wildflowers of America" book, plate 332.
I think she's on to something there. The penstemon may be mightier than the swordstemon that hath slain the snapdragonstemon.
Enough of this, I have to go pull swords out of rocks and things now. Or at least mow the lawn.
Excelsior!

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