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.
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
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.