Beardtongue: Deep Ruby-Toned Leaves, Brilliant White Flowers

Beardtongue: Deep Ruby-Toned Leaves, Brilliant White Flowers


Photo Compliments of Colorado Art Studio

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’, Purple-Leaved Beard-Tongue, or more commonly called beardtongue creates a dramatic accent with its brilliant white flowers against the backdrop of its deep red foliage. Beardtongue is tough and easy to grow; it tolerates a wide variety of conditions that include hot dry sites. ‘Husker Red’ is one of the few penstemons that will thrive in both wet winters and hot, humid summers. Deep ruby-toned leaves appear in spring, followed in late spring and early summer by 3-foot-high stems adorned by panicles of white blooms. The flowers attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies; this beardtongue is not a magnet for deer, or rabbits. In autumn and winter songbirds feast on the seeds. For a stunning display you should consider planting ‘Husker Red’ in groups. You will create a dramatic accent with the deep burgundy foliage of this tough and reliable perennial if you place it among bright leafed plants to accentuate deep spring color.

This penstemon cultivar (‘Red Husker’) is a clump-forming perennial which typically grows 2-3′ tall. It features striking white (sometimes with a pink blush) two-lipped, tubular flowers borne in panicles atop erect, rigid stems. Flowers bloom mid-spring to early summer. Leaves are maroon (hence the cultivar name). Basal leaves are elliptic and stem leaves are lance-shaped to oblong. Penstemon are sometimes called beard tongue because the plant on one of its stems has a sterile stamen that has a tuft of small hairs.

How To Make Your Beardtongue Thrive

Beardtongue thrives in dry to medium moisture; you will get the best foliage color in full sun. Follow a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system. For a neat appearance, remove old foliage before new leaves emerge. Divide clumps every 2 to 3 years in early spring.

General Beardtongue Information

Diseases and Pests

There are no serious insect or disease problems. Root rot can occur in wet, poorly-drained soils. Leaf spots are occasional problems. Flowering can be quite profuse and support is sometimes necessary.


Divide plants in spring; take cuttings in summer; start seed indoors at 55-64°F.

Garden Uses

This perennial is a super showy native that will grow beautifully in most any gardens. Tall red spikes stand up boldly in the perennial border and are an essential in cottage gardens. This beardtongue is at home in wild gardens, and at the edges of meadows and prairies. For such a showy Foxglove-like flower, it does surprisingly well in dry land gardens.

Quick Facts

  • Family: Plantaginaceae
  • Common Name: Beardtongue
  • Type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Hardness Zones: Zone 3 to 8
  • Height: 2 to 3 feet
  • Spread: 1 to 2 feet
  • Bloom Time: April to June
  • Bloom Description: White
  • Foliage Color: Burgundy
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water: Dry to medium
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Maintenance: Easy to grow and maintain
  • Attracts: Birds, butterflies, hummingbirds
  • Tolerates: Deer, drought, clay soil, dry soil

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  1. What a lovely plant – and what a great name!

  2. It’s my favourite penstemon, I love the dark red stems.
    rusty duck recently posted..StrippedMy Profile

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