July 23, 2004
At first glance, wildflowers seem like such dainty, unassuming little things. They sprout up along Arizona’s roadsides and mountain slopes each spring, radiating brilliant bursts of color and releasing perfume -sweet scents to the afternoon breeze.
But these blossoms aren’t wallflowers; some of them actually have quite a following, especially the penstemon. The flower’s devotees, botanical groupies of a sort known as "penstemaniacs," comprise the American Penstemon Society, and a little of their love is rubbing off on the Arboretum of Flagstaff.
"We wanted to focus on a particular plant, and the penstemon was an obvious choice," says arboretum assistant director Steve Yoder. "It’s beautiful, it’s found all over the state and it’s a water-saver." In honor of the blossom, the arboretum will host its firstever Penstemon Festival 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
The festival will offer fun for even the youngest in the family, with activities 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Kids can create a penstemon puzzle from stamps and paper, and play a pollination-themed matching game that utilizes larger-thanlife-size papier-mache flower parts, bees and hummingbirds. There will also be a daylong scavenger hunt.
Adult activities include a 10 a.m. lecture geared toward home gardeners and a 2 p.m. lecture on the plant’s natural history, of interest to hikers and nature enthusiasts. Penstemon expert and author Ellen Wilde will sign "Growing Penstemons: Species, Cultivars, and Hybrids" 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Experts will demonstrate how to plant the wildflowers at 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.
"The great thing about these flowers is that there are more types of penstemon than any other native plant in North America, and that means that many varieties do really well in the Phoenix area. It’s a great drought-tolerant plant," Yoder says.
Miles of pathways lead through lush high-country gardens and natural habitats, where signs provide detailed information about area plants and wildlife. Visitors are free to explore the grounds on their own, but guided tours are at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The free one-hour walks are led by staff members and docents who clue guests into "inside information" about the arboretum’s environment, display gardens, solar greenhouse and more. Golf cart tours are available for visitors with limited mobility; inform the visitors center staff of your request before the tour.
The Penstemon Festival is free with paid admission to the arboretum. Prices are $4 adults, $3 seniors, $1 children ages 6 to 12. For more information, call (928) 774-1442.