white flowers of native foxglove beardtongue plants

The blossoms of foxglove beardtongue contain purple stripes that guide bees into the nectar reward, and hairy "tongues" that make the pollination process more efficient. Photo: C. Carignan, University of Maryland Extension

Updated: March 19, 2021

About foxglove beardtongue

Penstemon digitalis
Perennial Forb
Snapdragon Family

Maryland Distribution: Moist meadows, woodland openings, throughout the state.

Height: typically 3 ft in full bloom, rarely higher

Blooms: bell-shaped white blossoms from late May through June

Sun: full sun to light shade

Soil: Tolerates all soil textures and excels in compact urban soils.

Garden Use & Maintenance: Clumping plant produces spikes of white flowers in late spring. Shiny brown capsules are formed by July and remain through the fall. Fall foliage is a beautiful red, and overwintering basal foliage is semi-evergreen. Ornamental seed pods add winter interest, but should be removed if self-sowing is a concern. Use in meadows, rain gardens, roadsides, and garden beds that are highly visible in winter.

Garden Companions: Pair with Virginia day flower, which blooms at the same time, or gray goldenrod for beautiful red and gold fall colors.

Wildlife/Pollinator Notes: Flowers are visited primarily by small to large bees, and are particularly popular with bumble bees. Occasionally visited by hummingbirds.

Point of Interest: This is not a foxglove (genus Digitalis) at all, but in fact a beardtongue (genus Penstemon) that looks something like a foxglove. The term beardtongue comes from the hairy protrusion inside the lower lip of the flower, an organ which increases the efficiency of flower pollination during bee visits. The lower lip also has purple stripes that guide bees to the nectar reward deep in the flower’s throat.

foxglove beardtongue showing fall color

Foxglove beardtongue, fall color

winter foliage of native foxglove beardtongue plants

Winter basal foliage provides habitat for lady beetles (see red spot, upper center)

Additional resource

Publications for Gardeners | Maryland Native Plant Society