Photo by Melody

Penstemon: An introduction to species and cultivars

By Susanne Talbert (art_n_gardenJuly 15, 2014

Penstemon is a wonderful native American genus of wildly varied, flowering perennials. This is a little known genus of vast proportions that would be hard to comprehend in one sitting, maybe even one lifetime. From dwarf ground covers to tall shrubs, xeriscaping to consistent moisture, Penstemons run the gamut of diversity. Here is a brief overview of this wonderful wildflower, straight from a Lay gardener's research journal.

Gardening picture

With around 100 Penstemon species to choose from, finding native, beautiful plants is easy. Using native plants is an excellent way to control insects and disease while promoting natural wildlife in your garden. Penstemon are naturally found all over the Americas, from warm Central America to the cold plains of Canada. With varieties acclimated to such diverse growing conditions, you are sure to find one to fit your unique gardening situation.

Penstemon generally have tall, loose spikes of small flowers above small or thin leaves. They vary from a few centimeters to several feet tall. A few species of Penstemon are highlighted here.


Crested Beardtongue (P. eriantherus)

This lavender flowering variety is native to the Pacific Northwest America into Canada and ranging southeast through northern Nebraska and Colorado. It flowers in June and July and thrives in cooler, wetter conditions.



Gulf Coast Penstemon (P. tenuis)

Because it is a Texas native, Gulf Coast Penstemon is a fantastic choice for southern gardeners for its use in mixed borders to add height and color. It is particularly suited to deal with high humidity and less than perfect drainage.



Shell-Leaf Penstemon (P. grandiflorus)

Shell Leaf Penstemon is a large flowering variety that has tubular pink-lavender blooms. It can grow up to 3 feet tall and is a native to the eastern US Great Plains. This is an excellent Penstemon for a big impact in well draining, full sun locations.



Cardwell's Penstemon (P. cardwelli)

Cardwell's Penstemon is also native to the Pacific Northwest and is named for Dr. James Cardwell, who actively studied wildflowers in the late 1800s. A compact shrub, with light violet to pink flowers, Cardwell's Penstemon does well with a little elevation and good drainage.

Whipple's Penstemon (P. whippleanus)

Whipple's Penstemon is a gorgeous plum color native to western United States, which makes it a great candidate for xeriscaping, surviving wind and even high altitude planting.


A menu of Penstemon

Take a look through a handful of native Penstemon species. Notice the large variety of colors and sizes. Click on the image to go to the Plant Files entry of each species.

Eastern Gray Penstemon (P. canescens)


Beard Tongue (P. hartwegii)




Parry's Penstemon (P. parryi)




Firecracker (P. eatonii)



Small's Penstemon (P. smallii)



Beardtongue (P. barbatus)


Scarlet Beardtongue (P. murrayanus)


P. pseudospectabilis


Sunset Crater Penstemon (P. clutei)


Newberry's Penstemon (P. newberryi)


Mountain Fountains (P. bridgesii)


P. cobaea


White Wand Penstemon (P. tubiflorus)


Rock Penstemon (P. baccharifolius)

Rocky Mountain Penstemon (P. strictus)

Dwarf Hairy Penstemon (P. hirsutus var. pygmaeus)


Cascade Penstemon (P. serrulatus)



Shrubby Beardtongue (P. davidsonii)



Pineleaf Penstemon (P. pinifolius)


P. ellipticus


Cultivars to note

In addition to countless beautiful species, many cultivars of Penstemon are also available. Cultivars offer a wide range of colors, growth habits and bloom size. Cultivars can sometimes be easier to find commercially than species Penstemon, so keep your eyes open for these stunners!

Phoenix Series

A new group of Penstemon cultivars called Phoenix Series. This series, which includes other color variations such as red and magenta, was bred specifically to withstand heat and be disease resistant. The throat is bright white which offers a stark contrast to the deeply colored outer edges. The Phoenix Series grows to about 18" tall and is excellent as a border plant or in containers.


Rondo Mix



Husker's Red



Stapleford Gem (Sour Grapes)



Mersea Yellow


Bunchleaf Penstemon- Margarita BOP











Pike's Peak Purple




True Blue


Enjoy a beautiful native in your garden today! Pick a Penstemon that will fit your individual gardening needs. Penstemons are a more rewarding landscaping plant than you can imagine.


Sources: (P. digitalis)

Photo Credits:

Ally_UT - Crested Beard Tongue

Broots-P. hartwegii

Frostweed- P. cobaea and Rock Penstemon

Growin- Newberry's Penstemon

Happenstance- Husker's Red

Htop- P. pseudospectabilis

Jamieh68- Stapleford Gem

Joy- Rondo Mix

Kaperc- Bunchleaf Penstemon

Kaufmann- Beardtongue

Lilylover_UT - Firecracker, Meresa Yellow, and Whipple's Penstemon

Marilynbeth- Mountain Fountains

Peachespickett-White Wand

Poppysue-Rocky Mountain Penstemon and Shell leaf Penstemon

QCapen- Pike's Peak Purple Penstemon

Terry- Bandera

Todd_Boland- P. cardwelli, P. davidsonii, P. ellipticus, P. serrulatus, Pinleaf Penstemon, and Dwarf Hairy Penstemon

TomH3787-Scarlett Beardtongue

Xenomorf- Sunset Crater

Yotedog- Eastern Gray

dicentra63- True Blue

Chiltepin1 - Gulf Coast Penstemon

Gerris2 - P. smallii


This article was originally published on August 4th, 2008. Please note that the author may not be aailable to answer qustions at this time.

  About Susanne Talbert  
Susanne TalbertI garden in beautiful Colorado Springs, half a mile from Garden of the Gods. Since we bought our first house two years ago, I have been busy revamping my 1/4 acre of ignored decomposed granite. My garden passions include water gardening, vines, super-hardy perennials, and native xerics. By day, I am a high school ceramics teacher as well as a ceramicist and painter.

  Helpful links  
Share on Facebook Share on Stumbleupon

[ Mail this article | Print this article ]

» Read articles about: North American Native Plants, Penstemons, Garden Journals, Xeriscaping, Ground Covers, Perennial Flowers

» Read more articles written by Susanne Talbert

« Check out our past articles!

Discussion about this article:

We recommend Firefox
Overwhelmed? There's a lot to see here. Try starting at our homepage.

[ Home | About | Advertise | Media Kit | Mission | Featured Companies | Submit an Article | Terms of Use | Tour | Rules | Privacy Policy | Contact Us ]

Back to the top

Copyright © 2000-2015 Dave's Garden, an Internet Brands company. All Rights Reserved.

Hope for America