Scarlet Bugler (Penstemon centranthifolius) blooming on the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak in the Ventana Wilderness.
Attention-grabbing stalks of Scarlet Bugler are currently blooming throughout the drier and hotter parts of the Santa Lucia Mountains, making it a natural choice for Wildflower of the Week. This plant, whose Latin name translates from its Greek roots as the purely descriptive “five-stamened spur flower,” is a member of the Figwort Family (the not-necessarily-scrofulous Scrophulariaceae). It ranges from the dry hills of Central, and even Northern, California down into Baja. But that’s as far as it goes. It does not venture across the Sierras or the Colorado River.
P. centranthifolius in bloom at the Indians.
Scarlet Bugler, as is obvious from its narrow, bright red flowers, specializes in attracting hummingbirds. This attribute, together with its beauty and ability to grow in terrible soil with practically no water, has made it a favorite of homeowners looking to make their landscaping more drought tolerant. It does require a hot sun, though. This is not a plant that appreciates coastal fog.
Native people in Central California are said to have used a poultice prepared from P. centranthifolius to treat infected wounds, and modern science has recently caught up with this ancient knowledge by isolating anti-microbial compounds from Scarlet Bugler and other members of the Scrophulariaceae.
Look for it in hot rocky places and in clearings in the chaparral. If it’s around, you won’t have any trouble spotting it.