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Perennial of the Week: Penstemon – Beard Tongue

Penstemon, commonly known as Beard Tongue, may resemble Foxglove, but is a famed flower in its own right. Flagstaff, Arizona holds an annual Penstemon Festival, and the American Penstemon Society (est. 1946) is exclusively dedicated to this flowering perennial.

Penstemon plants range in size from just one inch tall to over seven feet in height! It’s name refers to the tube-shaped flower’s fuzzy and extended fifth stamen, which resembles a tongue. The blooms appear on tall spikes, and run the gamut from pink, blue, and purple to orange and red.

The plants are deciduous or semi-evergreen and many are great for xeriscapes, since many varieties hail from desert or alpine habitats and can stand up to nature’s harsher aspects.

Smaller varieties are excellent selections for rock gardens and borders, while taller forms can be used for wildflower plantings or as specimen plants in the garden bed. Penstemon enjoys full sun, but some varieties will take partial shade. Beard Tongue’s growing conditions vary by variety as noted below. Some varieties can tolerate moist soil and even shade while others prefer a sunny, well-drained site. Remove spent flowering racemes to prolong the bloom time of all Penstemon varieties.

A number of Rohsler’s Grown Penstemon varieties are on sale this week, including the following:

P. tubaeflorus –Grows 2’-4’ tall, has white flowers, prefers sun and well-drained soil, blooms late spring, and is deer resistant.

P. calycosus (Calico Penstemon) — Grows up to 4’ tall, has pink flowers, can be grown in sun or shade, tolerates moist soil conditions, and blooms in early summer.

P. digitalis “Husker Red” — Grows up to 3’ tall, has white flowers and ruby toned leaves, prefers full sun to light shade and average well-drained soil, and blooms late spring/early summer.

P. “Red Rocks” — Smaller hybrid growing 1-1.5’ tall, has red and white flowers, prefers sun and dry to medium soil, and blooms early to mid summer.

P. “Dark Towers” — Grows 2-4’ tall, has pale pink flowers and dark wine red foliage, prefers sun and dry to medium soil, and blooms in the summer.

P. “Pikes Peak Purple”- A hybrid which grows to 18” tall, with short spikes of bright violet-purple trumpet flowers beginning in early summer.Flowering can continue on and off all summer long. low maintenance hybrid which prefers sun and good drainage.

Gardeners will reap various rewards, since Penstemon is a pollinator plant for hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees and a seed source for songbirds.

Low-maintenance Penstemon is deer and rabbit resistant. It also delivers:

  • Beautiful blooms in an array of colors that make great cut flowers
  • Striking foliage, which can be ruby or bronze in some cases

Add Penstemon to your landscape today!