Foxglove Beardtongue

Photo of foxglove beardtongue flowers
Scientific Name
Penstemon digitalis
Plantaginaceae (plantains); formerly Scrophulariaceae (figworts)

Foxglove, or smooth beardtongue is a  clump-forming, perennial herb; it is the tallest of the 4 white-flowered penstemons in Missouri. Flowers in loose terminal clusters; each flower 1¼ inches long, irregular, with 2 lips: the upper 2-lobed, the lower 3-lobed. Of the 5 stamens, 1 is modified into a hairy “tongue” and positioned centrally, probably to attract insects for pollination (hence the name "beard tongue"). Blooms May–July. Stem leaves opposite, lance-shaped, sessile (stalkless), with small, widely spaced teeth.

Other Common Names
Smooth Beard-Tongue
Foxglove Penstemon
Tall White Beard-Tongue

Height: to 4 feet, but usually shorter.

Where To Find
iamge of Smooth Beard-Tongue Tall White Beard-Tongue Foxglove Beardtongue distribution map

Statewide, except extreme northwestern counties.

Occurs in rich or low moist woodlands and woodland borders, thickets, prairies, old fields, rights-of-way.

Penstemons used to be placed in the Scrophulariaceae, the figwort family. Recently, botanists have been using the new tool of molecular (DNA) research to study relationships among plant groups. They have determined that the former "scroph" family contained several groups of plants that truly belonged in other families, so they "disintegrated" the Scrophulariaceae. Penstemons are now placed in the now-much-larger Plantaginaceae, or plantain family.

This is a popular native plant for landscaping, and cultivars are available that have (for example) burgundy foliage or different-colored flowers. This species is striking when massed in sunny borders. Penstemons are some of our continent's most attractive native flowers.

This plant attracts bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds. Apparently, few herbivores eat its foliage. The roots (along with those of all the other plants) help to stabilize the soil, even during seasons when this perennial plant is dormant.

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Similar Species

Where to See Species

Davisdale Conservation Area is in Howard County, 15 miles west of Columbia and seven miles east of Boonville on Highway 40.
About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!