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Hairy penstemon’s tubular flowers on woolly, reddish stems display a procession of violet hues from May to July, filling in the gap between spring-blooming flowers and later-blooming perennials. This herbaceous member of the plantain family has erect stems 1 to 2’ tall and open clusters of hundreds of slender, inch-long floral tubes that attract many species of bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds. Its oblong, green leaves turn red in fall, and the basal leaves persist long enough to classify this as a semi-evergreen plant. A hardy perennial, it adapts to a range of well-drained soils, including average clay, and is drought tolerant once established. It achieves full flowering potential in full sun but can get by with as little as two hours of sun per day. It grows in clumps that expand by short rhizomes and spreads non aggressively by self-seeding.  Divide the plant in spring or fall every 3 to 5 years to prevent the center from dying.


The Plantaginaceae family includes snapdragons, foxglove, and over 250 beardtongue species. Hirsutus is Latin for “hairy,” and penstemon means “beardtongue,” which refers to the sterile, hairy stamen protruding from the flower. Hairy penstemon can be distinguished from other beardtongues by its early bloom time and hairy stems. Because of its native range in the eastern and northeastern US, it’s sometimes called northeastern beardtongue.


Native habitats include rocky fields, bluffs, open woods, and drier sites. Use in formal or informal flower beds, shorter wildflower gardens, meadows, beside patios, and in micro-prairies. Plant en masse for a colorful display.


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 1-2’ tall.


Prefers full sun to part shade but can do with as little as 2 hours of sun per day.


Grows in moist to dry, well-drained soils, including sandy, loam, and light to average clay.


Violet, trumpet-shaped flowers bloom in early summer with 5 partially fused petals and a protruding lower lip with an arched base. Dry, capsule-shaped fruits about 1/4″ in diameter turn brown and hard, lingering throughout winter.


Opposite, sessile (stemless), lance-shaped leaves have serrated margins. Basal leaves persist throughout the year.


Wildlife Value:

Penstemmons host the larvae of 10 species of Lepidoptera, including the Baltimore, Arachne, and chalcedon checkerspot butterflies. The larvae of several small moth species feed on the seeds. Primary pollinators are bumble bees, mason bees, and leafcutter bees. Deer and rabbits sometimes browse the young foliage.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Some penstemon species have been used to treat menstrual pain, stomach aches, burns, wounds, and coughs.


Caution: the plant may be harmful if consumed.

Penstemon, Hairy, Penstemon Hirsutus

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