Penstemon pallidus (Pale Beardtongue)

Plant Info
Also known as: Eastern White Beardtongue
Family:Plantaginaceae (Plantain)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; average to dry rocky soil; wooded slopes, prairies, railroads, roadsides, bluffs
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:12 to 30 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: UPL NCNE: UPL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Flower shape: tubular Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] Three to 8 opposite pairs of flower clusters on erect to ascending stalks arising from leaf axils in the upper plant, with 2 to 8+ short-stalked flowers in each cluster. Flowers are white to pale pink or lavender, about ¾ inch (16 to 22 mm) long, tubular, the lower lip with 3 downward pointing lobes of similar size and shape, the upper lip erect and lobed in 2 parts somewhat smaller than the lower lobes. Inside the tube are several pinkish or purplish lines, 4 black-tipped stamens hugging the upper part of the tube, a white style, and a sterile stamen with sparse yellow hairs at the tip end.

[photo of glandular hairs] The floral tube is abruptly inflated from the lower third. The calyx surrounding the flower is green and has 5 slightly spreading, narrowly egg-shaped to triangular lobes. Cluster stalks are about 1 inch long and green to reddish. The flower, calyx and flower stalks are all densely covered in glandular hairs.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are basal and opposite along the stem. Basal and lowest stem leaves are somewhat variable, 1 to 5 inches (2 to 12+ cm) long, stalked, variably toothed or toothless around the edges, spatula shaped to oblong-elliptic with a pointed to rounded tip. Stem leaves are up to 4 inches (10 cm) long and ¾ inch wide, becoming more lance-oblong, pointed at the tip, stalkless and clasping, the uppermost toothless or with minute, widely spaced teethed around the edge.

[photo of stem and leaf hairs] Upper surfaces are moderately to densely covered in soft hairs, the lower surface hairy especially along the midrib. Stems are erect, single or multiple from the base, and hairy but not glandular except in the flower clusters.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of mature fruit] Fruit is a teardrop-shaped capsule about ¼ inch (5 to 7 mm) long.

[photo of seeds] Seeds are dark reddish brown to blackish, angular and irregularly shaped.


Pale Beardtongue is considered historical in Minnesota, though the national map indicates it's adventive here; there have been only 3 records total from Lake and St. Louis counties, collected from roadsides in the 1950s. It is a Special Concern species in Wisconsin, with the closest population just across the Mississippi River from Houston County. Coincidentally, while exploring Vinegar Ridge in Houston County, we found what appears to be a natural population of Pale Beardtongue in an area that had been burned earlier in the year. Perhaps this species isn't historical after all...? The flowers are similar to other Penstemon species: White Penstemon (Penstemon albidis), Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) and Slender Beardtongue (Penstemon gracilis), all of which have hairless (or nearly so) leaves and stems.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in her garden. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken at Vinegar Ridge, Houston County, and his garden.


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