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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

White Beardtongue (Penstemon albidus)

The beardtongues are one of the largest groups of showy wildflowers in the mountains, deserts, and grasslands of the western United States. Only a few species grow in the eastern part of the country. The white species discussed here has adapted itself to the band of grasslands that extends from Alberta to Texas, at elevations under 7,000 ft.

Stems of white beardtongue stand up to sixteen inches tall, and usually occur in groups of two to four. The white or light violet flowers are about three-fourths of an inch long and arranged as clusters on the upper four inches of the plant. The nearly hairless leaves are opposite each other. Leaves are about three inches long at the base of the stem, but become progressively smaller upwards. Fruits are capsules about 1/2 inch long filled with dark, angular seeds.

The best place to look for white beardtongue is on dry hilly prairie that is somewhat gravelly. Grazing does not seem to be a factor determining the abundance of this perennial plant.

The beardtongues are members of the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae) which derives its name from the supposed cure of scrophula and figwarts attributed to members of this group of plants by early medical practitioners. Beardtongues get their name from the single sterile stamen that bears a tuft of hairs. This filamentous male organ protrudes from the petals like a "tongue." There are four fertile stamens in addition, hence the generic name Penstemon, from the Greek paene, "almost", and stamon, "thread" (filament) or "almost a stamen." Albidus means "whitish" in botanical Latin. White beardtongue was first described for science in 1818 by Thomas Nuttall.

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Return to Scrophulariaceae (The Figwort Family)
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