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Penstemon canescens

Common Name(s):
Beard-tongue, Penstemon
Herbs, Native Plants, Perennials, Wildflowers

Penstemon canescens, commonly called gray beardtongue, is a clump-forming perennial which typically grows 1-3' tall. It is native to dry slopes and woods primarily in the Appalachian Mountains from Pennsylvania south to North Carolina and Alabama.  

Genus name comes from the Greek words penta meaning five and stemon meaning stamen in reference to each flower having five stamens (four are fertile and one is sterile).

Common uses are sunny areas of borders, rock gardens or native plant gardens.

Penstemons are sometimes commonly called beard tongues because the sterile stamen has a tuft of small hairs.

Regions:  Mountain, Piedmont

Seasons of Interest: 

  Blooms:  Summer            Nut/Fruit/Seed: Late summer 

Wildlife Value:   This plant is moderately resistant to damage from deer.  White-tailed deer will browse heavily on the foliage.  It is a host plant for the Common Buckeye butterfly.  Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to the blooms.  Members of the genus Penstemon support the following specialized beeOsmia (Melanosmia) distincta. 

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems: Root rot can occur in wet, poorly-drained soils. Leaf spot may also occur.


Spring, summer
Sun, part shade
1-2 ft.
USDA Hardiness Zone 5-8
Beard-tongue has clasping, oblong-lanceolate, medium green upper stem leaves (2-6" long). Broad-ovate basal foliage. This species is often covered with dense, minute gray hairs. The upper leaves are stalkless, opposite and rounded to heart-shaped with a sharply toothed margin. The lower leaves are broader and stalked.
Beard-tongue features loose terminal racemes of pale to dark violet-purple, two-lipped, tubular flowers (to 1 1/2" long) atop erect, rigid, hairy, gray stems. The corolla is abruptly swollen in the middle. It has grooves and dark lines in the open throat. The flowers bloom in late spring to summer. The stem is gray and finely hairy.
Herbaceous perennial
Beard-tongue is easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils in full sun. Avoid wet, poorly-drained soils. Remove spent flowering racemes to prolong bloom. Plants may be cut back to basal foliage after flowering to improve the appearance of the planting.
Life Cycle:
pink, wildflower, shade, summer, specialized bees, low maintenance, bees, purple, nectar, pollinator, perennial, lavender, spring, wildlife, showy

NCCES plant id: 2678

Penstemon canescens Flowers
homeredwardprice, CC-BY-SA-3.0
Penstemon canescens Penstemon canescens at the National Botanic Garden, Washington, DC, USA.
Katja Schultz, CC BY - 2.0