Possibly the smallest of all Penstemon flowers, Pale Penstemon is an excellent native flower for residential landscaping use. It’s petite size make it a perfect choice for almost any flower bed. And unlike some other small native flowers, it is well behaved and not aggressive at all.
I have several patches of this lovely flower in my gardens. I like to keep it near the edge of sidewalks or driveways, as it will never encroach or crowd the path. It is about the first of all Penstemon to begin blooming, and does a great job supporting Spring pollinators.
In this article:
- What is Pale Penstemon
- What are the benefits of Pale Penstemon
- Identification / Characteristics
- How to grow and care for Pale Penstemon
- What Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases effect Pale Penstemon
- Where to buy Pale Penstemon
- Uses of Pale Penstemon
- Final thoughts
What is Pale Penstemon
Pale Penstemon is a perennial wildflower native to Central and Eastern North America. Scientifically known as Penstemon pallidus, it grows 1-2′ tall in full sun and well draining soil. Blooming white tubular flowers for approximately three weeks in Spring, it attracts numerous species of bees and hosts several species of moth caterpillar. 
It is a great addition to formal flower beds due to it’s smaller size, non-aggressive nature, and the fact that competition can be controlled. In the wild, this plant can be shaded out by more aggressive or taller plants.
Native Range of Pale Penstemon
The primary native range of Pale Penstemon is the Midwestern United States from Northern Arkansas to Northern Wisconsin, and various isolated populations located in the Mid-Atlantic, South, and Southern Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec in Canada. It is also established outside of it’s native range in the North Eastern United States from Pennsylvania to Maine (not shown).
Pale Penstemon Reference Table
|Native Range, USDA Zone
|Central and Southeastern United States, USDA hardiness zones 4-8
|Bloom Duration, Color
|12″-24″ (30-60 cm)
|Spacing / Spread
|12″ (30 cm)
|Full sun to partial shade
|Sandy loam to clay loam, rocky
|Dry to medium moisture, well-drained
|Fauna Associations / Larval Hosts
|Bees, butterflies, moths. / Hosts several moth caterpillars
What are the Benefits of Pale Penstemon
Pale Penstemon is one of the tiniest, most well-behaved native flowers you can landscape with. There is always room of one more in any flower bed.
It’s size and growing conditions mean it can grow in a wide variety of locations. One may plant it nearly anywhere outside of deep shade or wet areas.
The clusters of blooms at the top are beautiful and seem to stand tall despite storms or inclement weather. Several specimens can make for a nice accent, or clustered together to make a short border lining a sidewalk.
Identification and Characteristics of Pale Penstemon
The central stem is round, light green, and covered in small hairs. It generally stays tall and erect against all weather and wind. No doubt the shorter stature helps it in this regard, as it will be less leaf area and shorter in terms of leverage.
Pale Penstemon leaves are arranged in pairs, opposite along the stem. They are roughly 1″ wide by 3″ long and lanceolate to oblong in shape. The margins are serrated, but with large space between teeth (dentate).
There will be panicles of flowers near the top of the stem that are generally 4-8″ long. The individual flowers are 1/2″-3/4″ long and about 1/4″ diameter. They are tubular shaped with two small lobes on top, and three on the bottom.
How to save Pale Penstemon seed
Flowers bloom for around 2-3 weeks in Spring. About 1-2 months after blooming, seed capsules will form. When the capsules turn brown, you can collect them by cutting the stalk below the seed head, taking care to keep the seed pods upright, and placing them in a brown paper bag.
Leave the bag to dry in a cool dry location for about a week, so that no surface moisture is on the pods. Then, simply crush the pods by hand or by using a rolling pin to release the seed.
Want to see more? We have a detailed step by step guide to saving Penstemon seed here.
The root system of Pale Penstemon is fibrous roots and a small taproot.
How to Grow Pale Penstemon from Seed
Seed of Pale Penstemon is very tiny and needs exposure to sunlight to germinate. Also, Pale Penstemon seed will benefit from a cold-moist stratification period of 30-60 days. This can be accomplished by stratifying the seed in the fridge, or via Winter Sowing. See our guide on stratifying in the fridge with a paper towel here, or our detailed guide on Winter Sowing here.
How to plant Pale Penstemon seed
The following steps assume you are planting stratified seed, or are Winter Sowing.
- Fill a suitable container with moist potting soil. Gently tamp the soil with your hand. The soil should be moist enough so that when you squeeze a handful only a few drops of water fall out.
- Sprinkle a small amount of Pale Penstemon seed on top of the soil. Be careful doing this, as it is very easy to over-sow the small seeds.
- Press the seed into the moist potting soil.
- Place the container in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. Doing so will help ensure that the seed stays moist by protecting if from the hot afternoon sun.
- Water the seed when needed by misting it with a spray bottle or pump sprayer.
Seed should germinate once temperatures warm up in Spring. Note that due to difficulty in not over-seeding the tiny seeds, you should plant on having to either thin or separate seedlings.
Direct sowing Penstemon
Penstemon can be directly sown in the fall in disturbed areas. Scatter the seed, and walk on it to ensure good contact with the soil. Do not bury the seed, as it needs exposure to sunlight to germinate.
Grow and Care for Pale Penstemon
Pale Penstemon will grow best in full sun, but can tolerate afternoon shade as well.
For soil, Pale Penstemon is quite adaptable. It can grow in most soil textures as long as it drains well. Sandy loam, clay loam, or gravelly soil is fine.
For moisture, Pale Penstemon will do best on dry to medium-moist locations. It does not do as well in moist locations.
Pale Penstemon will not really have any maintenance. Despite producing a lot of seed, it doesn’t really self-seed very much. The stalks are so short that even meticulous gardeners don’t need to worry about cutting it back in Fall, thereby helping to provide habitat to bees and beneficial insects as nesting material.
Pale Penstemon does not need supplemental fertilizer.
Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Pale Penstemon
Like other Penstemon, Pale Penstemon is most often pollinated by long-tongue bees such as bumblebees, digger bees, honeybees, and mason bees.  There are other species that will also visit the plant, as well as several moth caterpillars that will feed on the foliage.
Additionally Pale Penstemon has been reported to attract hummingbirds. I have not seen them on my plants though.
Deer and Rabbits
In general, deer and rabbits leave Pale Penstemon alone once they are fully grown. However, like many plants young and tender growth may be browsed. In Spring it is a good idea to spray it with Liquid Fence once or twice when the stalks begin to rise.
Pale Penstemon is generally free of disease and problems.
Where you can buy Pale Penstemon
You are likely to find cultivars or other varieties of Penstemon in regular garden centers, but Pale Penstemon is not typically sold in nurseries, as it isn’t a common garden plant. It can often be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.
Where to buy seeds
We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)
Uses of Pale Penstemon
Pale Penstemon is one of the most versatile native plants to grow in a formal flower bed, as it can fill in gaps, line borders, or make it’s own short and beautiful stand. This plant really should be included in more people’s gardens.
It can work in wild areas too, provided it doesn’t get shaded our out-competed by larger plants. This can be a common problem, so be aware of it.
Pale Penstemon has been included in roadside plantings and noted for it’s high survivability. Another benefit of using Pale Penstemon is that due to it’s small size, there would reduce mowing demands.[road] Another novel application of Pale Penstemon is it’s inclusion as a species in ‘green roofs’. It has been noted for having a high survivability in comparison to other species. 
Pale Penstemon grows well with any other sun-loving plant that likes well drained soil, of which there are many. The one caution I will repeat here again is to avoid overly aggressive species next to it such as Monarda or Mountain Mint unless you contain them with a barrier.
But some good companion plants of Pale Penstemon are as follows:
- Virginia Bluebells
- Lanceleaf Coreopsis
- Eastern Red Columbine
- Penstemon digitalis
- Penstemon hirsutus
- Tennessee Coneflower
- Winecups (Callirhoe involucrata)
- Prairie Smoke
- Wild Petunia
- Prairie Phlox
I have not been able to locate any references to Pale Penstemon being used medicinally in modern times, nor by Native American tribes.
Pale Penstemon is one of the most well-behaved native flowers one could include in a garden. It is relatively easy to grow from seed and establish, and is versatile in it’s tolerated growing conditions. Furthermore, it’s bloom time can bridge the gab between Spring Ephemerals and the start of long-blooming Summer plants like Lanceleaf Coreopsis or Tennessee Coneflower. So, you should be considering where you could locate this very nice native flower.
 – Penstemon pallidus Small. USDA NRCS. Accessed 04MAY2023.
 – Mohlenbrock, Robert H., and William Wallace. “The Taxonomic Status of Penstemon brevisepalus Pennell.” Castanea 28.1 (1963): 42-44.
 – Perkins, Anne E. “NOTES ON SOME MAINE PLANTS.” Rhodora 40.479 (1938): 462-464.
 – Crosswhite, Frank S., and Carol D. Crosswhite. “Insect pollinators of Penstemon series Graciles (Scrophulariaceae) with notes on Osmia and other Megachilidae.” American Midland Naturalist (1966): 450-467. Accessed 04MAY2023
 – Robertson, C, . Flowers and Insects. C. Robertson, Carlinville, Illinois, 1929
 – Davidson, Robert A. “Plant communities of southeastern Iowa.” Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science. Vol. 67. No. 1. 1960.
 – McDonald, Garry V. The Development of Novel and Non-Invasive Germplasm Selections Native to Arkansas for Highway Re-Vegetation Projects. No. MBTC DOT 3027. United States. Dept. of Transportation. Research and Special Programs Administration, 2012.
 – Decker, Allyssa. Evaluating native plant survival on a mid-western green roof. Diss. Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, 2016.
 – Nowak, Mariette, Birdscaping in the Midwest : a guide to gardening with native plants to attract birds, Blue Mounds, WI : Itchy Cat Press, 2007, pp.336
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