Hairy Beardtongue - Penstemon hirsutus

Submitted by Mark McD on Sat, 03/06/2010 - 08:42

Penstemon hirsutus is one of the easy "Eastern Penstemons" native to much of eastern USA (except the most southerly States) and eastern Canada. Synonymy includes P. pubecsens, P. hirsutus var. pygmaeus, P. hirsutus var. minimus, so it is interesting that the popular dwarf form seen in many rock gardens should get the name P. hirsutus 'Pygmaeus', surely not a legal name by today's standards where latinized cultivar names are not allowed, but probably predating such guidelines, or the sheer popularity of the plant thwarting any attempt for name correction.

However, I'm not talking about the dwarf variety today, just regular Penstemon hirsutus, if there is such a "regular" thing. In its many guises and forms, it is always a pleasant, highly serviceable plant, flowering for many weeks early to mid summer, often with rebloom, and then finishing with surprisingly good fall foliage. I do not need to plant it in my garden, it just seeds about freely here and there, with the potential of becoming pesky in an immaculate garden, but my garden is not so fussy so the spires of soft color are welcome, although some judicious thinning of unwanted seedlings is necessary.

A few photos show some natural color variation showing up. Sorry about the low light in a couple of these photos, most often my photos were taken in the waning early evening light just before dusk after a long day at work and long commute.

Distribution Map


Submitted by Lori S. on Sat, 03/06/2010 - 10:30

A nice, unassuming penstemon, indeed.  The pinched mouths on the flowers is a readily-noticeable characteristic, aside from the general hairiness. 

It is, no doubt, a function of its immense popularity that P. hirsutus is commonly available in seedexes... not only under its rightful name, but seemingly under many other species names as well!  ;)  It's easy to end up with a few more of these than one intended.  :)

Submitted by RickR on Sat, 03/06/2010 - 22:59

I discarded the name 'Pygmaeus' eons ago.  I've never heard of it asexually propagated for sale, which of course, a cultivar name would require.  P. hirsutus var. pygmaeus, is correct in my book.  And one must remember when growing from seed, to weed out the larger growing siblings to maintain the dwarfness.

indeed, one of the workhorses of the rockgarden, and its larger type species equally useful in the garden.