Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pink Beardtongue - Penstemon australis



Pink beardtongue (Penstemon australis) is a rather diminutive member of a widespread wildflower genus in the snapdragon family. Hundreds of penstemons are native to North America, but the vast majority are found in the arid west and southwest. In Florida, we have only three and one, the Eastern smooth beardtongue (P. laevigatus) is quite rare. The other, white or many-flowered beardtongue (P. multiflorus), is common, commonly propagated, and found in most Florida counties.
For some reason, pink beardtongue is not being propagated by any member nursery of the Association of Florida Native Nurseries though this species is beautiful, easy to grow, and found throughout much of Florida except the extreme southern counties. We have rectified this by growing it at Hawthorn Hill.
Pink beardtongue is one tough plant. Native to well-drained sandhills and open woodlands, it is extremely drought tolerant and forgiving of low soil nutrients. It prefers full sunny locations, but can do well if given at least half a day of sunshine.
Beardtongues are deciduous and their basal rosette of elliptical leaves emerge in early spring. Shortly thereafter, they send up their flower stalks. The leaves of pink beardtongue are often edged in red. This distinguishes them from the common and noticeably larger white beardtongue that sometimes grows alongside it in nature.
The flower stalks of pink beardtongue are only 1-3 feet tall, but individual plants produce several during the blooming season and the rosettes produce "pups" alongside the main shoot which also bloom. Over the course of a blooming season, each plant might therefore send up a dozen flower stalks or more.
Each flower stalk produces a dozen or more soft-pink blooms. Unlike the other Florida species, these are tightly tubular - not open at the mouth and very similar in structure to cultivated snapdragons. At the base of the flower is its "beard"; a strip of "hairs" that serve to guide pollinators to the nectar at the back of the bloom. Beardtongues are mostly pollinated by bees ans wasps, though hummongbirds also stop by to use them.
Pink penstemon blooms in our gardens from spring until mid-fall. We love the soft colors, but find that they get lost unless you plant this species in mass and near the front of the planting. We are happy to make this wonderful wildflower available to others and expect to keep this in our gardens for as long as we are here.

4 comments:

  1. these are gorgeous, whimsical and and delicate but tough. wonderful.

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  2. Will these reseed themselves?

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  3. Penstemons, in general, produce good seed crops for me. That said, I have not had many seedlings appear around my parent plants over the years. I collect most of the seed my plants produce and sow it into flats - then put some of the seedlings in the ground while they are young. The rest goes to my small nursery and for sale to the public. If you have good open sand around your plants, little to no mulch, you might get more reseeding than I do. My soil is sandy, but has too many organics to drain as quickly as it should. These plants are adaptable, but in nature prefer very sandy conditions.

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  4. I have recently noticed that Green Isle Garden is propagating this species.

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