May 19, 2011

Spring Spotlight: Small's Beardtongue

Penstemon (beardtongue) is a spring staple in the garden, and we have a couple in our perennial areas as well as wild ones that have free-seeded into the sunny areas near the stream in the back. My favorite specimen of the genus, the native Small's Beardtongue (Penstemon smallii) is no small bloomer. At over 2 feet tall and covered in lavender-colored blooms, this beauty is paid frequent visits by the bumble bees and every so often a humming bird.

The bumbles fly from flower to flower, crawling all the way inside the calyx to get the sweet nectar. Looking closely at the trumpet-shaped flower, the pubescence on the tongue-like petals makes you realize why they call it "beardtongue".

Small's Beardtongue is native to the mountain regions of the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama and grows in USDA zones 5a through 9b. In its native habitat it grows in light shade and well-drained soils, but in the garden it does best in full to part sun typical of Penstemon species. My plants (its a clump of 3) came from a class I took in the NCSU horticulture program last year, and grows in 4-5 hours of morning and mid-day sun. It blooms earlier, and for a longer period than our Penstemon digitalis varieties, starting in late April and continuing into mid-June. Last October it graced us with a second, smaller flush of blooms. I hear this is a short-lived perennial so I let it go to seed before cutting it back.

Following the heavy rains we've experienced in the past few weeks, a few stems have flopped, but it stood its ground better than expected for such a tall plant. We placed these near the front of our landscape border, near a downspout garden.  Great for the middle or front of any border or rock garden, this beauty is one of my new spring favorites and a has been sure place to spot the seasons first male hummers.

"The little purple plant, tended by its Maker, closed its petals, crouched low in its crevice of a home, and enjoyed the storm in safety" ~John Muir


  1. Great shots of a great perennial. I've killed quite a few in my wet soil and the only one that has survived is "Husker's Red". Thanks for sharing the info!

  2. _Wonderful_ John Muir quotation.

  3. I never wanted bearded tounge unitl you told me bumblebees and hummingbirds like it. I'll do anything for bumblebees and hummingbirds. Thanks for the info.

  4. I am hopeful to find some that like the wet weather here ...but as ONG said the Huskers Red is a trooper...lovely shots of this beauty


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