Mountain-Prairie Region

Grahams Beardtongue White River beardtongue
Photos used with permission of Kevin Megown and Gina Glenne

Species Description:  Both Graham's beardtongue (Penstemon grahamii) and White River beardtongue (Penstemon scariosus var. albifluvis) are long-lived perennial herbaceous plants in the plantain family (Plantaginacease). both species are local endemic plants associated with soils containing calcium carbonate, derived from oil shale barrens of the Green River geologic formation. Most populations are associated with the surface exposure of the petroleum-bearing oil shale Mahogany ledge.

Graham's beardtongue is dormant for most of the year when it exists as a small unremarkable basal rosette of leaves. During flowering the plant becomes a "gorgeous, large-flowered penstemon" (Welsh et al. 2003). Similar to other species in the beardtongue (Penstemon) genus, Graham's beardtongue has a two-lipped flower with a prominent sterile male flower part - the "beardtongue" that typifies the genus. The combination of its large, vivid pink flower and densely bearded staminode with short, stiff, golden-orange hairs makes Graham's beardtongue quite distinctive. Each year an individual plant can produce one to a few flowering stems that can grow up to 7 inches tall, with 1 to 20 or more flowers on each flowering stem.

White River beardtongue is a shrubby plant with showy lavender flowers. It grows up to 20 inches tall, with multiple clusters of upright stems. It has long, narrow, green leaves. Like other members of the beardtongue genus and like Graham's beardtongue, it has a two-lipped flower with a prominent beardtongue. White River beardtongue was first described as a new species, Penstemon albifluvis, in 1982 In 1984, the taxon was described as variety P. scariosus var. albifluvis.

Location: Graham's beardtongue occurs along a horseshoe-shaped band about 80 miles long and 6 miles wide extending from the extreme southeastern edge of Duchesne County in Utah to the northwestern edge of Rio Blanco County in Colorado. White River beardtongue's range extends from the vicinity of Willow Creek in Uintah County, Utah to Raven Ridge west of Rangely in Rio Blanco County, Colorado. The bulk of the species' range occurs between Raven Ridge and Evacuation Creek in eastern Utah, a distance of about 20 miles.

Threats:  Graham's beardtongue is susceptible to impacts from energy exploration and development, as well as the cumulative impacts of increased energy development, livestock grazing, invasive weeds, and climate change. White River beardtongue faces similar threats, but may be more vulnerable due to its even smaller population sizes. The small population sizes of both species increases their vulnerability to these factors.

Recent Actions: On August 5, 2014, the Service announced that it is withdrawing a proposed rule to protect Graham’s beardtongue and White River beardtongue under the Endangered Species Act.  The decision was made after the Service worked with county, state, and federal partners to finalize a conservation agreement, which will reduce threats and provide landscape-level protections to both plant species across their ranges in the Uintah Basin in Utah and Colorado.


On May 5, 2014, the Service announced the availability of a draft economic analysis and draft environmental assessment on a proposal to designate critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act for Graham’s beardtongue and White River beardtongue, two endemic plants found on oil shale soils in Uintah and Duchesne Counties, Utah, and Rio Blanco County, Colorado. The Service also announced the availability of a draft conservation agreement for the two species.

The Service will reopen the public comment period until July 7, 2014, on these documents and the August 6, 2013, proposed listing rule and proposed designation of critical habitat for both species; a draft environmental assessment; and additional data on species occurrences obtained since the proposed rule. The Service will also host a public hearing on May 28, 2014 on the proposals.

On August 5, 2013, the Service is proposing to list Graham’s and White River beardtongues as threatened, due primarily to projected future energy development. The proposed listings would apply across both species’ ranges. We are also proposing to designate critical habitat for these two species that includes all known occupied habitat.

On April 13, 2006, the Service proposed listing the Graham’s beardtongue, a perennial plant found in northeastern Colorado and northwestern Utah, as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and designate critical habitat.

More information on the Graham's beardtongue can be found on the Service's ECOS webpage

More information on the White River beardtongue can be found on the Service's ECOS webpage

Last updated: August 6, 2014