Penstemon gracilis (Slender Beardtongue)

Plant Info
Also known as: Lilac Penstemon, Slender Penstemon
Family:Plantaginaceae (Plantain)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; dry to moist sandy or rocky soil; prairies, open woods, rock outcrops, along railroads
Bloom season:May - July
Plant height:8 to 18 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: whorled

[photo of flowers] Three to 7 opposite pairs of flower clusters on erect to ascending stalks arising from leaf axils in the upper plant, with 2 to 6 short-stalked flowers in each cluster. Flowers are pale violet or pinkish to purple, about ¾ inch (15 to 22 mm) long, tubular, the lower lip extending out and down with 3 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 darker purplish lines, 4 black-tipped stamens hugging the upper part of the tube, a white style, and a yellow sterile stamen covered in short hairs at the tip end.

[photo of calyx and glandular hairs] The floral tube is abruptly inflated from the lower third. The calyx holding the flower is green to purple and has 5 flaring lance to triangular lobes shorter than the floral tube. The calyx, flower stalks and outer surface of the petals are all densely covered in short glandular hairs.

Leaves and stem: 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, stalked, toothless or minutely toothed, mostly hairless, narrowly spatula shaped to oblong to narrowly egg-shaped, 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.5 cm) long, up to ½ inch wide, pointed to blunt at the tip, tapering at the base. Stem leaves are somewhat smaller, erect to ascending, minutely toothed, stalkless, more rounded at the base, and reduced to bracts in the flower clusters. Stems are erect, single or a few from the base, unbranched, hairless or minutely hairy, and green to purplish.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of seeds] Fruit is a capsule ¼ to 1/3 inch (6 to 8 mm) long containing numerous angular brown seeds.


Slender Beardtongue is commonly found in sandy prairies and rock outcrops but tolerates a range of conditions from dry to average moisture and full sun to part shade. It is more delicate in appearance than most of our other native Penstemon species, recognized by the (usually) pale lavender to pinkish flowers and is seldom more than 15 inches tall.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Pope and Ramsey counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Joel - Wild River State Park
on: 2010-05-31 22:08:02

I also have a picture, but it's a little out-of-focus.

Posted by: Ben - Eden Prairie
on: 2011-06-24 08:33:10

There's a similar penstamon blooming here now, but I think it's penstamon digitalis, not penstamon gracilis, mostly based on the fuller leaves and flower clusters. These plants are beautiful in patches.

Posted by: Dick - ND near Westhope
on: 2012-02-22 09:48:52

I found two of these plants growing in an old cemetery North of my farm. I have a close up picture if you want it.

Posted by: Gretchen - Pine County
on: 2012-06-28 09:01:54

Found several pockets of this in St. Croix state Park. I noticed you didn't have any location for Pine County so I thought I would throw it out there for ya!

Posted by: Bill - Inver Grove Heights
on: 2016-06-20 11:33:09

I spent last year removing the buckthorn from the woods in our lot that we had just purchased, and this is one of the rewards that appeared this spring--they're on the edge of an oak-aspen-black cherry woods that continues to the Mississippi River.

Posted by: Deane - Park Rapids, MN
on: 2016-06-27 22:55:21

There is a group of these blooming now on the Heartland Trail just east of County 4. Several plants also bloom every year on Headwaters Country Club, visible if you hit your ball badly to the right on #3.

Posted by: Bill R - NW Pennington Co MN
on: 2017-06-24 21:39:59

A number of Beardtongue plants come up each May-June along side the driveway.

Posted by: Brett - Otsego
on: 2019-06-29 15:53:39

Lots blooming now in Sherburne county.

Posted by: Laurie Ollhoff - Farmington
on: 2020-06-11 20:34:52

I had three of these coming up. I didn't know what they were and I was afraid I would end up with weeds everywhere. I did keep one just to see what it was. Now I am sad I pulled the others. I seem to get help from birds bringing me seeds. It's their way of thanking me for all the food I serve them.

Posted by: Heidi Hughes - Marshall County on the Pembina Trail
on: 2021-06-16 19:42:33

Literally hundreds in bloom this week along the Pembina Trail in Marshall County

Posted by: Jim cramton - Bemidji. Corner of 30th Street and Hannah avenue
on: 2023-08-01 09:09:11

Found in a disused field in a commercial park area. In mostly introduced grasses but some native species as well. The seed capsule and/or seeds have an objectionable odor similar to valerian.

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