The penstemon (pronounced pen-stay-mon) is native to parts of North America and is a member of the snapdragon family. It is sometimes called beardtongue, for the fuzzy "beard" inside each flower.
Penstemon produces tall spikes covered with long, tubular five-petaled flowers, which may be red, pink, lavender or white.
Penstemon is very drought-hardy; in fact it is intolerant of wet, soggy soil and can actually die if given too much water. It prefers a site with full sun and good drainage.
The most common native type is the blue-flowered Penstemon strictus, the Rocky Mountain penstemon. Penstemon palmeri, called the pink wild snapdragon, is pleasantly scented. Smaller varieties such as Penstemon pinifolius (pine-leaf penstemon) works well in a rock garden.
Perennial Plant of the Year
The Penstemon variety Husker Red was named the Perennial Plant of the Year for 1996 by the Perennial Plant Association. Its name comes from its deep maroon foliage and the fact that it was developed at the University of Nebraska.
Penstemons are attractive to hummingbirds, and disliked by rabbits. Their drought tolerance makes them a good candidate for a xeriscape (water-saving) garden.
- Colorado State University Extension--Beardtongue
- Linda Naeve, Reiman Gardens; Plant a Husker in Your Garden; 2003
- Perennial Plant Association
penstemon, beardtongue, perennial plant of the year
About this Author
Gwen Bruno has been a full-time freelance writer since 2009, with her gardening-related articles appearing on DavesGarden. She is a former teacher and librarian, and she holds a bachelor's degree in education from Augustana College and master's degrees in education and library science from North Park University and the University of Wisconsin.