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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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New Penstemon Variety to be Released This Fall

LAS CRUCES--A field of pink, purple and blue flowers on Los Lunas attracts bees, hummingbirds and ladybugs. This test field of narrowleaf penstemon will son attract homeowners and state organizations when the seeds are released for sale this fall.

The variety, 'Penstemon augustifolio', was collected from seeds of native plants in the Four Corners area of New Mexico. Since 1992, the plants have been growing at New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas in a cooperative effort with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's New Mexico PLant Materials Center (PMC).

"NMSU had the land and PMC made the plant selections," said Mike English, superintendent of the center. It's a beneficial arrangement for both organizations."

PMC and BHP Minerals Navajo Mine employees collected the penstemon. PMC grew them into seedlings which were first planted at the center in 1992.

"Initially, the plants didn't recognize very well," said Ramona Garner, PMC agronomist. By 1997, 75 percent of the field was lost. "We just considered it natural selection and the remaining 25 percent were better adapted to out environment," she said.

Seeds from the hardy survivors were planted in another Los Lunas field in fall 1997. "The plants go dormant in the fall, so this is the first year we've had full bloom," Garner said.

This year, PMC will collect seed from the established plants. "We expect to collect about 100 pounds of seed," Garner said. The seed will be distributed through the New Mexico Crop Improvement Association later this fall.

'Penstemon augustifolia' is a low-water-use perennial plant, evolving under conditions of less than six inches of precipitation a year. Its hardy characteristics make it desirable for use along highways and reclaiming disturbed natural areas.

"The New Mexico State Highway Department is currently using other penstemon varieties along roadsides across the state," Garner said. "This new variety is well-adapted for use in conservation efforts, disturbed land plantings and possibly home xeriscaping."

The joint effort between PMC and NMSU is one of many at the Los Lunas center. "We've been fortunate to share in a variety of research projects that benefit New Mexico," English said.