Beardtongues are plants that grow in mountainous regions. Davidson’s beardtongue (Penstemon davidsonii) grows on rocky slopes in the western mountains of southern British Columbia. As it ranges south to the warmer, drier climate of northern California, the species becomes increasingly more alpine, that is, it tends to grow above the treeline. Depending on its location, the species varies in the way it grows and flowers, but it is typically a mat-forming, evergreen shrublet that produces lavender to purple tubular flowers on short, wiry, upright flowering stems.
Beardtongue flowers have five free (separate) lobes, two up and three down. The central lobe serves as a landing platform for pollinating insects such as bumblebees. The plant is commonly called beardtongue because its central lobe is tongue-shaped and covered with short hairs that help guide pollinators into the flower.
There are a few myths surrounding the name “Davidson’s beardtongue.” Many people believe that the plant got its name from John Davidson, who botanized extensively in the mountains of southwestern British Columbia. Others believe the plant is named after another western North American botanist, Anstruther Davidson (1860–1932). In actual fact, however, the name honours Dr. George Davidson (1825–1911), an English-born American geographer and astronomer who collected plants in California.