Blowout Penstemon

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Blowout Penstemon

Penstemon haydenii

ListedSeptember 1, 1987
FamilyScrophulariaceae (Snapdragon)
DescriptionPerennial with decumbent stems and blue flowers.
HabitatBlowing sand dunes.
ThreatsLimited distribution; artificial dune stabilization.


Blowout penstemon, Penstemon haydenii, is a perennial with very leafy, simple or branched stems. Stems are often decumbent and attain a length of 2 ft (60 cm). Paired leaves are linear-to lance-shaped, up to 5 in (13 cm) long. Flowers appear from mid-May to late-June and have a strong, persistent fragrance that attracts bees and other pollinators. The fruit matures and splits in early to mid-August, and the seeds either fall near the base of the plant or are transported primarily by wind to other sites. Most plants begin to flower and reproduce at two to three years of age. Blowout penstemon's flowers are larger and a lighter blue than those of its closest relative, Penstemon angustifolius.


This species grows in sand dune "blowouts" in the Nebraska Sand Hills region. Blowouts are conical craters, scooped out by the swirling action of the wind. Blowout penstemon is adapted to grow in these otherwise sterile sands, and its root system helps to stabilize the dunes. Other, less pioneering, plants soon become established and crowd out the penstemon, which must then colonize new blowouts. The plant survives burial by sending off shoots at successively higher nodes on the stem, but it can be killed if erosion uncovers the roots.


Blowout penstemon was first collected in 1891 near Dismal River in Thomas County, Nebraska. Historically, the plant was probably widely scattered throughout the central part of the Nebraska Sand Hills in the western portion of the state. It has never been collected outside of Nebraska.

Blowout penstemon is presently known from small populations in five Nebraska counties: Cherry (three populations); Hooker (one population); Garden (three populations); Box Butte (two populations); and Sheridan (one population). In 1987, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimated the existence of approximately 4,250 plants in the entire population with individual populations ranging in size from fewer than 25 to more than 2,000 plants.

Two populations occur on federal land (FWS and U.S. Forest Service) and one population occurs on state land administered by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. The remaining populations occur on private lands.


Farmers in western Nebraska have tried to control unstable dunes in order to protect farmland from the blowing sand and expand farm acreage. Typically, this is done by planting windbreaks. However, dune stabilization affects blowout penstemon by preventing the establishment of new colonies and inhibiting seed dispersal to other natural blowouts.

Livestock grazing may impact individual plants when other forage is abundant, although the blowout penstemon does not appear to be a preferred plant. During dry years, when other forage is limited, grazing pressure on the plant would probably increase. Trampling by livestock may be a minor problem. Other activities that may impact this species include collecting for private and commercial use; highway/road construction; off-road vehicle use; powerline/pipeline construction; and pesticide use.

Conservation and Recovery

The species has been listed as endangered under the Nebraska Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act, which regulates possession and sale within the state. More than half the populations are on federal land, and these are protected under provisions of the Endangered Species Act. The species has been successfully cultivated, and nursery plants will be used to augment existing populations and establish new populations where feasible. Research to develop propagation techniques and to determine the species ecological requirements and life history has been conducted at the University of Nebraska

The species recovery plan was produced by the FWS in 1991. Recovery efforts recommended by the FWS include the protection of naturally occurring, reintroduced, and introduced populations and their habitat; the location of naturally occurring populations and suitable habitat for establishing new populations; population monitoring and research to determine species life history, viable population parameters, habitat requirements, and management criteria; the reintroduction of populations in areas of historic occurrence and introduction of new populations in suitable habitat within the species' range; the development and implementation of management plans for naturally occurring and new populations; the maintenance of seed source; and the promotion of public education to develop awareness and support for the conservation of the blowout penstemon.


Regional Office of Endangered Species
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
P.O. Box 25486
Denver Federal Center
Denver, Colorado 80225


Barkley, T. M., ed. 1977. Atlas of the Flora of the Great Plains. The Iowa State University Press, Ames.

Pennell, F. W. 1935. "Scrophulariaceae of East Temperate North America." Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia Monographs 1:267-269.

Pool, R. J. 1914. "A Study of the Vegetation of the Sandhills of Nebraska." Minnesota Botanical Studies 3(4):189.