Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Eastern Smooth Beardtongue - Penstemon laevigatus   Aiton
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Section 6 » Order Scrophulariales » Family Plantaginaceae
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DistributionNearly throughout the state, but absent from the northeastern part of the state, and only of scattered occurrence in the Mountains.

This is an Eastern species, but does not range into the Northeast. It ranges north to MA and OH, and south to the FL Panhandle and LA. It is much more common in VA, NC, and SC than anywhere else in the range.
AbundanceCommon and widespread across essentially all of the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain, except very rare to absent east of Hertford, Bertie, Beaufort, and Carteret counties. In most of the southern half of the Coastal Plain and Sandhills, it is less numerous than P. australis and can be uncommon in some areas.
HabitatThis species has a wide array of sunny to partly shaded habitats, mostly in mesic soils. It grows in old fields, powerline clearings, wooded borders, open woods, in glades and barrens on high pH soils, and other somewhat cleared areas, including openings in bottomland forests. It tends to avoid overly dry but also overly wet soils.
PhenologyBlooms from May into July, and fruits from July to August.
IdentificationThis is a very familiar wildflower in most of the state, and is the beardtongue to which others should be compared, though nearly all others have richer rose-colored flowers. It has a stem about 1.5-2 feet tall, generally unbranched, with scattered pairs of opposite leaves. The stem is usually glabrous, though it can have some hairs in lines. The leaves are lanceolate, sessile, and have squared and clasping bases like others in the genus. The leaves average about 4 inches long and 1-inch wide (toward the base), with small serrations along the margins. The top third of the stem contains the large and open inflorescence, composed of perhaps 20-25 pale pink to whitish flowers, each about 3/4-inch long and strongly inflated in the middle of the flower. Over the range east of the mountains, the only other identification contender is P. australis, but that has purple-rose flowers that are generally not inflated and thus are narrower; the inflorescence is usually fewer in flowers, which are strongly horizontally-aligned. In the mountains, where this species is not common, others have richer colored flowers; see their accounts for other identification characters. This is a wildflower than needs little effort to find in May and June, often seen along wooded borders, in powerline clearings, and in other clearings and grassy places.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Smooth Beardtongue, Appalachian Beardtongue
State RankS5
Global RankG5
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