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Beardtongue, Penstemon

This plant is valued for its trumpet-like flowers.

Plant type: Herbaceous perennial; sub-shrub
Hardiness: USDA Zones (4)5 to 8

This perennial has plenty of durability in dry conditions. Blooms from early to mid-spring (April to June) or mid-summer, depending on species and cultivar. Bloom colors include white, pink, rose, purple and bicolors. Several species are native to the U.S. and range from groundcover types to taller, upright plants. Plant size is 18 to 48 inches tall and 24 inches wide, depending on cultivar or species.

How to use it: In masses (use at least three or five plants in a grouping) or in containers. Use in the middle to the back of a mixed perennial border or naturalize in a woodland garden. May be used as a cutflower.

Culture: Prefers moist, well-drained to dry site. Plant in full sun to partial shade. Does not tolerate wet soils. Primarily propagated through seed or division. No serious pest or disease problems but can have problems with powdery mildew.

Special notes: The term penstemon is derived from pente, meaning five, and stemon, meaning stamen, and refers to the flower's five stamens. Various species do well in higher elevations, up to 9,000 feet. Some penstemon species, including P. digitalis, are found in prairie communities. Deer resistant. Fire resistant. Attracts wildlife, including birds (hummingbirds), bees and butterflies.

Selected cultivars and species

  • P. digitalis 'Husker Red'. Developed by Dale Lindgren at the University of Nebraska. Burgundy-leafed cultivar with showy white to light pink flowers. 'Husker Red's foliage turns a deep red in cool weather. Plant size is 30 to 36 inches tall. 1996 Perennial Plant of the Year. USDA Zones 4 to 8.

  • Common beardtongue (P. barbatus). Most cold tolerant penstemon. Has large flowers. Prefers full sun. Native to the Rocky Mountains and southwest U.S. Cultivars feature pink ('Pink Beauty'), red ('Prairie Fire') and yellow ('Schooley's Yellow') flowers. Zones 2 to 8.

  • Rocky Mountain penstemon (P. strictus). Wildflower native to the Rocky Mountains. Lavender-blue to purple flowers. Reaches 12 to 36 inches tall and as wide. Zones 3 to 8.

  • Pineleaf penstemon (P. pinifolius). Native sub-shrub. Plant size ranges from six to 18 inches and 24 inches wide. Can be grown as a groundcover. Has needle-like foliage and orange-red blooms in summer. Tolerates heat. Good for xeriscaping and rock gardens. Zones 3 to 8.

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