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Beard tongue is drought and clay tolerant, good for restoration projects.

Beard tongue is drought and clay tolerant, good for restoration projects.

Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red'

Beard tongue

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:  Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ is an upright clumping beardtongue cultivar.  In spring, strong stems rise bearing deep red sessile leaves.  Foliage is topped by showy summer panicles of tubular snapdragon-like flowers. The white blooms are proudly displayed on deep purple stems.  Pollinators flock to the florets in sunny or partly shaded sites with average well drained soil.

HABITAT & HARDINESS:  The parent species Penstemon digitalis ranges from Maine to Georgia and west to South Dakota and Texas. This species is indigenous to dry or mesic Blackland prairies, savannas, open floodplain or upland forests, woodland edges and clearings, acid gravely seeps, pastures, disturbed fields and right of ways. 

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ was discovered by Dr. Dale Lindgren, a mathematician turned horticulturist, from the University of Nebraska.  Lindgren found a reddish Penstemon digitalis seedling and spent 8 years refining the selection. ‘Husker Red’ was introduced in 1983 and probably named for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football team.  The cultivar was chosen for its deep maroon foliage, floriferous nature and extreme hardiness.

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ is hardy from USDA Zones 4-8.

PLANT DESCRIPTION:  Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ is an upright rhizomatous perennial. 

In spring, deep purple leafy stems emerge from clustered red-purple winter rosettes.  The mature leaves are glossy and maroon.  They are opposite with pointed tips and narrowly elliptical shape.  The leaves are up to 6” long and 2-3” across with tiny teeth on the margins.

The stems terminate in showy branched flower panicles.  The florets are tubular, lobed and about 1” long.  The outer surface of the corolla tube is white and the inner surface is marked with violet lines.  The light colored florets are prominently displayed against deep purple stems.

Blooming occurs in late spring or early summer for about a month.  Florets are followed by small capsules containing many tiny seed.

Plants grow 2-2.5’ tall with 1-2’ spread.

CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDSPenstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ flourishes in sunny sites with average well drained soil. Plants tolerate clay loam, sand, heat and drought. 

Deadheading to remove dried stalks in fall will allow the lovely purple rosettes to function as a winter groundcover.

Plants are pest resistant and unpalatable to deer and other herbivores.

LANDSCAPE USES:  This is a good choice for a Wildlife Garden, Cut Flower Garden, or Meadow. Plants are also used as Butterfly Nectar Plants or as part of a Grouping or Mass Planting.  In mild climates attractive rosettes provide Winter Interest.  Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ has Showy Blooms and is appropriate for Cottage Gardens, Deer Resistant Plantings, Water-wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings and Perennial Borders.

COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS:  Try pairing Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ with Baptisia australis, Ceanothus americanus, Liatris aspera, Monarda fistulosa, Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm' or Sorghastrum nutans.

Lobelia cardinalis ‘New Moon Maroon’ could be used as a substitute.  The two cultivars have red-purple foliage, similar height and comparable culture. 

TRIVIA:  Long tongued bees, butterflies, sphinx moths and hummingbirds sip nectar from the flowers.  Caterpillars of several moth species feed on the foliage.

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ was the Perennial Plant Association's 1996 Perennial Plant of the Year.

The common name “beardtongue” was adopted because the flowers contain a sterile stamen with a pubescent or “bearded” stalk.  

HABITAT & HARDINESS:  The parent species Penstemon digitalis ranges from Maine to Georgia and west to South Dakota and Texas. This species is indigenous to dry or mesic Blackland prairies, savannas, open floodplain or upland forests, woodland edges and clearings, acid gravely seeps, pastures, disturbed fields and right of ways. 

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ was discovered by Dr. Dale Lindgren, a mathematician turned horticulturist, from the University of Nebraska.  Lindgren found a reddish Penstemon digitalis seedling and spent 8 years refining the selection. ‘Husker Red’ was introduced in 1983 and probably named for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football team.  The cultivar was chosen for its deep maroon foliage, floriferous nature and extreme hardiness.

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ is hardy from USDA Zones 4-8.

PLANT DESCRIPTION:  Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ is an upright rhizomatous perennial. 

In spring, deep purple leafy stems emerge from clustered red-purple winter rosettes.  The mature leaves are glossy and maroon.  They are opposite with pointed tips and narrowly elliptical shape.  The leaves are up to 6” long and 2-3” across with tiny teeth on the margins.

The stems terminate in showy branched flower panicles.  The florets are tubular, lobed and about 1” long.  The outer surface of the corolla tube is white and the inner surface is marked with violet lines.  The light colored florets are prominently displayed against deep purple stems.

Blooming occurs in late spring or early summer for about a month.  Florets are followed by small capsules containing many tiny seed.

Plants grow 2-2.5’ tall with 1-2’ spread.

CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDSPenstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ flourishes in sunny sites with average well drained soil. Plants tolerate clay loam, sand, heat and drought. 

Deadheading to remove dried stalks in fall will allow the lovely purple rosettes to function as a winter groundcover.

Plants are pest resistant and unpalatable to deer and other herbivores.

LANDSCAPE USES:  This is a good choice for a Wildlife Garden, Cut Flower Garden, or Meadow. Plants are also used as Butterfly Nectar Plants or as part of a Grouping or Mass Planting.  In mild climates attractive rosettes provide Winter Interest.  Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ has Showy Blooms and is appropriate for Cottage Gardens, Deer Resistant Plantings, Water-wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings and Perennial Borders.

COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS:  Try pairing Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ with Baptisia australis, Ceanothus americanus, Liatris aspera, Monarda fistulosa, Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm' or Sorghastrum nutans.

Lobelia cardinalis ‘New Moon Maroon’ could be used as a substitute.  The two cultivars have red-purple foliage, similar height and comparable culture. 

TRIVIA:  Long tongued bees, butterflies, sphinx moths and hummingbirds sip nectar from the flowers.  Caterpillars of several moth species feed on the foliage.

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ was the Perennial Plant Association's 1996 Perennial Plant of the Year.

The common name “beardtongue” was adopted because the flowers contain a sterile stamen with a pubescent or “bearded” stalk.


Height:

2-3 ft

Spread:

1-2 ft

USDA Hardiness Zone:

4-8

Bloom Color:

White

Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' Characteristics

Exposure

  • Full Sun to Partial Shade

Critter Resistance

  • Deer Resistant

Attracts Wildlife

  • Butterflies
  • Songbirds
  • Pollinators
  • Hummingbirds

Soil Moisture Preference

  • Moist to Dry

Attributes

  • Drought Tolerant
  • Cut Flower
  • Clay Soil
  • East-Coast Native

Flowering Months

  • June
  • May

Foliage Color

  • Burgundy

Season of Interest (Foliage)

  • Fall
  • Summer
  • Spring
  • Winter

Salt Tolerance

  • Medium

Plants that work well with Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red'

Korean Feather Reed Grass Korean Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha)
Blue false indigo Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis)
New Jersey tea New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus)
Wild bergamot Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Black Eyed Susan Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm')
Wild sweet William Wild sweet William (Phlox maculata)
Spiderwort Spiderwort (Tradescantia x 'Sweet Kate')

Substitutions for Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red'

Cardinal flower Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis 'New Moon Maroon')