Penstemon digitalis

Beardtongue offers up a month-long display of showy flowers that pollinators, including long-tongued bees, enjoy.

Blooming now, and for the next few weeks, penstemons, a.k.a. beardtongue, are beloved of hummingbirds and pollinators, have beautiful flowers, are easy-care, and make a great evergreen groundcover. How can you not like this plant?

There are many species of penstemons, but most are native to the West, and desert Southwest. Therefore, we know they may prefer lower humidity and drier soils than we can provide.

But one — penstemon digitalis — is native to our area and does just fine here. Its native habitat here in Delaware is meadows, old fields and roadsides. So, from that, we can deduce it is not that picky about soils. It can take clay, even. It can grow in fertile, well-drained loams, clay loams and sand, and acid soil, preferably, but it tolerates lime. It doesn’t mind drying out, and it likes full sun. It is a great bloomer for clay loam. It is very easy to grow from seed.

The flowers on this perennial are beautiful. They are elegant and trumpet-shaped, and are white or pale pink, with the inner surfaces often marked by purple nectar guides — lines or markings in a flower that guide the pollinator to the prize.

The white flowers occur in a linear group at the top of each flowering stem and bloom during late spring or early summer for about a month. They are tubular in shape and about 1 inch long. They look like snapdragons — not surprising, since they are related.

The leaves are longer than they are wide and can persist all winter, making a nice evergreen groundcover.

Huskers Red.jpg

The Huskers Red cultivar of beardtongue, or penstemon digitalis, features a showy reddish-purple foliage.

There are a number of cultivars. Two of the best are Husker Red and Dark Towers, both of which have purplish-red basal (around the base of the plant) foliage, pretty all year ’round. Pair this great plant with blue-eyed grass or golden Alexander or spiderworts — all great easy garden perennials.

One of the best attributes of this plant, however, is that hummingbirds and pollinators love it! It fills a spot in between Columbines and beebalms for the hummingbirds, ensuring that they have something to sip on all season long. Many pollinators love the flowers, also. But the plants are not magnets for deer or rabbits! They might munch a little, but it’s not their favorite. In autumn and winter, songbirds feast on the seed.

Try this great, and under-used, plant in your garden today. It will be sure to please you.