Penstemon spp.- Gray Beard Tongue, Penstemon, Hairy Beard Tongue, others.


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Beard Tongue picture

A large colony of wagging Beard Tongues can be very showy. This is probably Penstemon pallidus or Pale Beardtongue.

Snapdragon Family (Scrophulariacaea)

A loose cluster of tubular flowers atop a thick stem. Flowers vary from violet-purple to pinkish flowers with several projecting lips (2 above and 3 below in the "Gray " species) and are about an inch long. The top of the plant is often hairy. The leaves are either lanceolate or clasping the stem.

May to July

Prefers dry woods and thickets. Rocky banks and roadsides and in dry open meadows.



Member of the snapdragon family (Scrophulariaceae). It is named Beard Tongue for the hairs (the sterile stamen) that project from the inside of the bottom lip. The corollas can be tubular or funnel shaped. The flowers are pollinated by bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, flies, and hummingbirds and are recommended at various garden sites for attracting butterflies.

beard tongue picture

The beardtongues have about 275 native species and are especially prevalent in the western US, but there are some that grow in the Western NC area. However, distinguishing them apart can be difficult so it is probably best to enjoy them as a group. Known species to grow in this area are:

Pale, or downy white Beardtongue (Penstemon pallidus) a native that has cream-colored flowers which are streaked with violet nectar guides. The flowers appear from May to June. Blooms in late spring. It can be found in well-drained soil and in full sun to light shade. Grows to about 30 inches.

Eastern Gray Beardtongue (Penstemon canescens) has a loose cluster of violet-purple to pinkish flowers streaked inside the corolla with purples lines. Its 3 part lower lobe projects straight out. The stem is downy-soft, and the leaves tend to clasp it. It grows in dry woods and thickets and generally in the mountain regions of NC, TN, VA, SC and GA. It grows from 1 - 3 feet tall.

Eastern Smooth Beardtongue, (Penstamon laevigatus) - I didn't find out any distinguishing characteristics for this species.

Hairy Beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus) is more woolly-stemmed than most eastern Pestemons. The flowers are trumpet-shaped with white lips in short, loose panicles of pink, violet or white. It tends to form mounds of like kind. The leaves are oblong to lanceolate and generally finely toothed. This plant is one of the indicator species for Northern hardwood forests.

Small's Beardtongue (Penstemon smallii) has pink to purple or even somewhat reddish flowers. It is found in direct sun to light shade. It blooms in late spring and the flowers tend to stay light pink for a long period. Small-medium leaves form reddish basal rosettes in the winter. Found in N. Carolina and Tennessee. Grows to 18-24"

Large-flowered Beardtongue (Penstemon grandiflora) has flowers of a lilac-lavender color and found in direct sun in dry soils. Blooms in summer and grows 2-3.5 feet tall. If found in NC, it is probably an escapee from the garden.



Most of the American Indian uses i could find involved the many more species in the western US, from ceremonial use by the Hopi, Lakota use for paint on moccasins, to Navajo use as a diuretic.

The uses that i could find for east-coast species are that some American Indians are said to have chewed the root and put the pulp into painful tooth cavities. The root has been used to treat rattlesnake bites and to hasten the movement of the afterbirth from a woman who has delivered a child.


The Penstemon Website is a great place to go if you're interested in beardtongues either for enjoyment or gardening. Several other pictures and info about joining the American Penstemon Society, coyly referred to as Penstemaniacs.

NCNatural's take on the Beardtongue family.

The California Academy of Sciences has information on Beardtongue family as it relates to the Western US, specifically California.

USDA Site has info on these North Carolina Beardtongues:
Small Pale Beardtongue, Eustis Lake Beardtongue, Eastern Gray Beardtongue, Small Longsepal Beardtongue, Talus Slope Penstemon, Eastern Smooth Beardtongue, Small's Beardtongue,