Penstemon digitalis, also known as Foxglove beardtongue, is a rather interesting native perennial wildflower. It grows easily from seed after only 30 days of cold, moist stratification. It transplants readily & will grow vigorously to a size suitable for planting outdoors in 4-6 weeks. The colors of the foliage includes a range of several shades of green, yellow, pink, purple, burgundy, & a touch of gold as autumn approaches. Foxglove beardtongue blooms rather early in June & July with a 4 foot blossom spike of white flowers with tinges of pink. These tubular blooms are excellent at attracting humming birds looking for nectar. It seems incongruous that these flowers are so attractive to birds & butterflies because the plant itself emits a rather unpleasant odor, at least to humans. The scent has been likened to smelly socks or a locker room! Walking near a group of Penstemon digitalis on a warm sunny day one will be aware of their presence without visual confirmation simply by the smell.
Since these flowers bloom relatively early in the season, the seed is ready for harvest in late summer to early autumn. The seed is quite small, an attractive burgundy color, & smells just as undesirable as the plant! After the seed has been harvested the foliage continues to change colors, deepening to gold, purple, burgundy, & dark green-colors that are typical of autumn. Often the foliage will maintain its color & structure through the winter & simply begin to grow again in the spring after breaking dormancy.
Foxglove beardtongue is an excellent addition to a garden for its colorful foliage & bird attracting flowers. It will thrive in full sun & medium to dry soil.
by Julie Jenkins Greenhouse Manager at Ion Exchange