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Manitoba Museum

Snapdragon (Scrophulariaceae)

Lilac-flowered Beardtongue

Penstemon gracilis Nutt.

This slender perennial plant has purple tube-shaped flowers with a lower lip that acts as a landing platform for visiting insects. Each flower also has a distinctively hairy, orange sterile stamen that sticks out like a tongue, giving the plant its common name. They attract pollinators such as hummingbirds and long-tongued bees. Plants have been used by Indigenous people for medicinal purposes.

Flower Colour:

  • Purple

Flowering Season:

  • Spring
  • Summer

Flowering Months:

  • April
  • August
  • July
  • June
  • May

Canadian Rarity Status:

Not rare. Listed as “sensitive” in Alberta and “may be at risk” in British Columbia.

Physical Appearance:

Unbranched stems grow 15-60 cm tall. Stalked basal and lower leaves are lance to oval-shaped with toothed edges, that die back early. Opposite unstalked stem leaves are linear to lance-shaped. Tubular, hairy flowers occur in whorls arranged into a loose, slender spike. Each one consists of an upper 2-lobed lip, a lower 3-lobed lip, four fertile stamens, and an orange, hairy, sterile stamen. Fruits are capsules containing numerous seeds.

Similar Species:

Slender Beardtongue (Penstemon procerus Dougl. ex Graham), White Beardtongue (Penstemon albidus Nutt.)

Gardening Notes:

Seeds and/or plants may be available from greenhouses and seed supply companies specializing in native plants. They are a good addition to bird gardens, and can be propagated by seed or cuttings.

Canadian Distribution:

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Manitoba
  • Ontario
  • Saskatchewan

Prairie Types:

  • Fescue Prairie
  • Mixed Grass Prairie
  • Tall Grass Prairie


  • Open Woodlands
  • Prairies

Moisture Conditions:

  • Dry
  • Moderate

Light Preference:

  • Full Sun
  • Part Shade

Soil Preference:

  • Gravel
  • Sand
Lilac-flowered Beardtongue