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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Narrow Beardtongue (Penstemon angustifolius)


The gorgeous flowers of narrow beardtongue should be open about this time of year. In North Dakota, the plant has been recorded as far east as Barnes County, and as far north as Renville County. Elsewhere, the plant is found from eastern Montana to northern New Mexico, at elevations up to 7,500 ft.

A perennial, slender beardtongue grows several stems about 8 inches tall from cord-like roots. The narrow, 2 to 3-inch long leaves are opposite each other on the stems. On top of each stem are clustered up to 20 azure blue to lavender flowers about 3/4 inch long. Fruits are 1/2 inch long capsules filled with angular brown seeds.

Look for narrow beardtongue in native pastures in areas where soils are light and sandy. The species seems to be mostly avoided by livestock, but nevertheless does not become abundant enough to crowd out more desirable forage plants.

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 the early herbalist-physicians. Beardtongues get their name from the single sterile stamen that bears a tuft of hairs. This thread-like male organ protrudes from the flower 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." The specific epithet angustifolius means "narrow-leaved" in botanical Latin. Narrow beardtongue was first collected for science by the famous English botanist-naturalist Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859). Nuttall visited the Mandan villages in what now is North Dakota in 1810-1811.


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