Pick up know-how for tackling diseases, pests and weeds.
Farm bill, farm marketing, agribusiness webinars, & farm policy.
Find tactics for healthy livestock and sound forages.
Scheduling and methods of irrigation.
Explore our Extension locations around the state.
Commercial row crop production in Arkansas.
Agriculture weed management resources.
Use virtual and real tools to improve critical calculations for farms and ranches.
Learn to ID forages and more.
Explore our research locations around the state.
Get the latest research results from our county agents.
Our programs include aquaculture, diagnostics, and energy conservation.
Keep our food, fiber and fuel supplies safe from disaster.
Private, Commercial & Non-commercial training and education.
Specialty crops including turfgrass, vegetables, fruits, and ornamentals.
Find educational resources and get youth engaged in agriculture.
Gaining garden smarts and sharing skills.
Timely tips for the Arkansas home gardener.
Creating beauty in and around the home.
Maintenance calendar, and best practices.
Coaxing the best produce from asparagus to zucchini.
What’s wrong with my plants? The clinic can help.
Featured trees, vines, shrubs and flowers.
Ask our experts plant, animal, or insect questions.
Enjoying the sweet fruits of your labor.
Herbs, native plants, & reference desk QA.
Growing together from youth to maturity.
Crapemyrtles, hydrangeas, hort glossary, and weed ID databases.
Get beekeeping, honey production, and class information.
Grow a pollinator-friendly garden.
Schedule these timely events on your gardening calendar.
Equipping individuals to lead organizations, communities, and regions.
Guiding communities and regions toward vibrant and sustainable futures.
Guiding entrepreneurs from concept to profit.
Position your business to compete for government contracts.
Find trends, opportunities and impacts.
Providing unbiased information to enable educated votes on critical issues.
Increase your knowledge of public issues & get involved.
Research-based connection to government and policy issues.
Support Arkansas local food initiatives.
Read about our efforts.
Preparing for and recovering from disasters.
Licensing for forestry and wildlife professionals.
Preserving water quality and quantity.
Cleaner air for healthier living.
Firewood & bioenergy resources.
Managing a complex forest ecosystem.
Read about nature across Arkansas and the U.S.
Learn to manage wildlife on your land.
Soil quality and its use here in Arkansas.
Learn to ID unwanted plant and animal visitors.
Timely updates from our specialists.
Eating right and staying healthy.
Ensuring safe meals.
Take charge of your well-being.
Cooking with Arkansas foods.
Making the most of your money.
Making sound choices for families and ourselves.
Nurturing our future.
Get tips for food, fitness, finance, and more!
Understanding aging and its effects.
Giving back to the community.
Managing safely when disaster strikes.
Listen to our latest episode!
One of my reasons for a grand tour of the Rocky Mountain west was to attend the 75th
annual meeting of the American Penstemon Society. The meeting, held during the second
weekend of July in the mountains around Logan, Utah, was a rousing success despite
the devastating drought and heatwave that has afflicted these always-dry lands. Above
8,000 feet things were lush and green; below 6,000 feet all was crunchy brown.
About 55 people, of a membership of 255, attended the event. One of the principal
organizers of the meeting was Dr. Mikel Stevens, an emeritus professor of Brigham
Young University who received his Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas in 1993. Mikel
and a couple of colleagues just published “Heart of Penstemon Country” (Sweetgrass
Books, 2020) which looks at the 60-some penstemons growing in Utah, plus the new species
he discovered. The regions we explored had a more modest number of species, with only
eight blooming during our foray into the mountains.
I get a lot of quizzical looks when I tell people I’m off to attend a penstemon meeting.
The general reaction is that they have no idea what a penstemon is followed by a look
of disbelief that anyone in their right mind would travel halfway across the country
to look at wildflowers. Well, explaining one’s love of nature to those not bitten
by the bug is pretty much hopeless, so I just shake my head and shrug as another loud
4-wheeler roars past leaving behind a rooster-tail of dust. To each his own, I guess.
There are about 250 species of penstemons described with all native to North America
and Mexico. They have opposite leaves and 2-lipped flowers in all shades but blues
and violets seem to dominate. Arkansas has about eight species, but ours are mostly
white-flowered, pink, purple or red. The genus is an emerging clade that has its center
of origins in the dry lands of the mountain west. Pollination is by bees, wasps, hummingbirds
and moths, so untangling the genetic makeup of a species is an excellent project for
doctoral students as they explore the complexities of geographical, geological and
The Penstemon Society was founded in 1946 during the waning days of the plant society
movement. At its peak, about 300 specialized plant societies existed that studied
everything from roses to ferns. The five original goals listed by the penstemon society
for forming mostly centered around learning to identify and grow these wildlings in
the garden and to create better kinds. While breeding efforts were in the fore in
the early years, today the emphasis has shifted more towards taxonomic research (especially
DNA work) and ecological understanding. To aid in the effort, the society sponsors
several modest research projects each year.
Who attends a Penstemon Society meeting? A friend from Louisiana, one of the few attendees
from east of the Great Plains, told me she had to rush home to attend her local mushroom
conference. I quizzed her on why penstemons and mushrooms. She said, “The people are
interesting. They are smart, well-educated and maybe just a little quirky. The kind
of people I like.”
The knowledge base of the attendees is incredible. A number of the participants are
professional botanists with a keen interest in learning about the plants where they
grow in the field, but even more are dedicated amateurs who have a passion for wildflowers
and have tromped the mountaintops most of their lives as they learned the flora. A
few, perhaps, are interested in only penstemons but most revel in even the most obscure
little green plant they find. I try to stand back and learn, for mine is not a deep
knowledge of the western flora. After more than a dozen years, I’m getting better
with the plants out here but sorting out specific penstemons is still hit and miss
By way of a confession, I admit I don’t have a deep and abiding love for penstemons.
They are nice wildflowers, but what brings me back year after year is the opportunity
to mingle with such nice folks and travel into the backcountry with them to see the
places we all drive by and wonder “What do you suppose is down that dusty road?” The
string of cars and the billowing dust you see could just be another group of plant
nerds heading off to some inaccessible site to see something rare and beautiful.
Gerald Klingaman is a retired Arkansas Extension Horticulturist and retired Operations
Director for the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. After more than two decades of penning the popular Plant of the Week column, he’s taking a new direction, offering views on nature as he pokes about the
state and nation. Views and opinions reflect those of the author and are not those
of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. If you have questions
or comments for Dr. Klingaman about these articles contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.