Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) Quick Facts
Nectar plant to butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds
Host plant to various Checkerspots, several moths, and possibly Buckeye butterfly
Hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8
Full to partial sun
Prefers well-drained soil, can tolerate moist to dry soil once established
Native to eastern and central US
White showy blooms in Summer
Grows 3-5’ tall, rigid stems rise from a leafy basal rosette that mammals tend to avoid when the plant is mature
Space 12-18” apart
Guests at the Foxglove Beardtongue Garden Party
Can you imagine an old-time record player? The gramophone kind, with the little dog listening at the speaker horn? Each of the many flowers of the Foxglove Beardtongue look very much like that cone-shaped horn. And those flowers are sending a siren song to pollinators in your area! Who are these welcome guests? Bees, for starters! The most amusing bee-watching just might be the sight of a bumble bee wriggling her way into the depths of the frilly-edged florals–further and further until only the yellow- and black-striped bee behind is visible. The plant is considered to be crucially important to long-tongued bumble bees, several species of which are at risk of extinction.
And who is not utterly entranced by a hummingbird? Their long, thin beaks are perfect for poking among the petals for a sugary snack. Finally, your own local butterflies will appreciate this reliable nectar source that appears when there aren’t many others available. Foxglove Beardtongue may also serve as a host plant for buckeye and various checkerspot butterflies.
Penstemon Digitalis is Robust yet Refined
This lovely native plant is easy to find in prairies, fields, along railroads and at the forest’s edge. Its wide range in central and eastern North America is a testament to the Foxglove Beardtongue’s adaptability to a variety of growing conditions. It tolerates drought as well as excessive water conditions if surrounding soil is well-draining.
A large (more than 250) number of Penstemon species make the United States their home, but the Foxglove Beardtongue is one of the very few that will thrive in climates with wet winters and humid summers. The plant self-seeds, but not aggressively, and the basal leaf clump from which the tall, erect stems rise remains green in warmer winter temps.
You might think this “survivor attitude” would dictate a rough appearance, but the Foxglove Beardtongue looks as at home in a formal garden bed as it does in the wild. Multitudes of 1-inch white, scentless blooms that appear in April-June spangle the top portion of elegant stalks. But these blossoms are not hothouse flowers, beautiful today and bedraggled tomorrow! Foxglove Beardtongue earns its distinction as a crucial early-season nectar source with flowers that remain for about a month. Try this tall charmer behind a carpet of Golden Alexanders.
Not a Fox, Not a Glove, and Not a True Foxglove
The true foxglove plant is a native of Europe and a member of the Figwort family. (Figwort! Sounds like a minor character in “Harry Potter.”) This European native is also poisonous to humans and dogs.
The Foxglove Beardtongue is a completely different plant–a member of the Plantain family. It is not toxic, but was named “foxglove” because its trumpet-shaped flowers resemble a European foxglove. “Beardtongue” refers to one particular stamen of the five in the blossom. This stamen springs from a tuft of fuzz that resembles hair.
Ignore the Name, Plant the Flowers!
The Foxglove Beardtongue is a fantastic, well-behaved addition to your garden that will pay dividends in the form of happy pollinators. And remember, you can always trust Joyful Butterfly to provide plants and seeds that are safe for all pollinators, always!