Plant of the Month

June 2020

Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

  • Type: Perennial
  • Light: Partial Shade
  • Water: Dry to Medium
  • Soil: Well-Drained
  • Height: 2 to 3 Feet
  • Width: 1.5 to 2 Feet
  • Flower: White
  • Bloom Time: April - June

This flowering perennial is a North American native with over 250 species. Most species are indigenous to the desert southwest and Mexico although a few originate in the East. Penstemon digitalis or foxglove penstemon is an Eastern cultivar that thrives in the heat and humidity of the South. A great all-season perennial, it keeps a neat mat of attractive foliage all winter long. No cold weather hibernation for this one!

It is a low maintenance plant that likes average, well-drained soil and partial shade. Take note, a poorly drained, wet site can be fatal! My favorite is ‘Husker Red’ that sends up tall spikes of bell-like, tubular white flowers flushed with pink early to mid-summer, similar to foxglove or salvia blooms. In this cultivar the stems, flowers and leaves all have a reddish tint. The foliage makes a stunning contrast to the white blooms and is a showy addition to the garden. Add to this all their pollinator friends and you have a real perennial winner! Penstemon attracts hummingbirds and a wide diversity of butterflies, moths, and bees.

They have a tidy growth habit of typically 1’ to 2’ wide and 2’ to 3’ high at maturity. Removing the spent flower racemes will encourage re-blooming and periodic division in spring helps keep the plants strong. FYI - the name beardtongue comes from the presence of an unusual sterile stamen in each flower that has a tuft of small hairs which reminded someone of a beard! - by J. Dean

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Blount County Extension Master Gardeners

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