Old Curious was at it again.

That nickname was given to Thomas Nuttall. A 19th-century know-it-all, Nuttall was called a botanist, zoologist, ornithologist, pteridologist (ferns), naturalist, taxonomist and dendrologist. This well-travelled and prolific English-born scientist lived a life of discovery and travel.

Coming to North America early in his career, Nuttall spent many years crisscrossing the United States alone and with other notable ‘ologists’ studying species, collecting specimens and documenting his travels and findings. Between voyages, he taught, lectured, wrote and studied, penning complete catalogues of plants, birds and his personal adventures.

On one interlude between trips, one of his students, Richard Henry Dana Jr., author of the classic memoir Two Years Before the Mast, came upon his former professor “strolling about San Diego beach, in a sailor’s pea jacket, with a wide straw hat and barefooted, with his trousers rolled up to his knees, picking up stones and shells.” Nuttall subsequently joined Dana on his sea voyage and the quirky professor was quickly given the aforementioned moniker “for all the curiosities he conveyed on board.”

Nuttall’s legacy includes his numerous books, fellowships and positions at universities, including a stint as curator of the Harvard Botanical Gardens. Many species were named by him and for him, including over forty marine genera, birds and other orgranisms, such as Nuttall’s woodpecker, Nuttall’s oak and Nuttall’s violet. Another lasting legacy is the Nuttall Ornithological Club, which still operates out of Cambridge, Mass.

A Nuttall-named species that caught my eye last week is foxglove beardtongue or Penstemon digitalis. That scientific name roughly translates to five-stamen foxglove or finger, as digitalis describes the plant and the digit. Of the stamens, one of them is sterile and has tufts of small hairs on it, which is the source of the “beardtongue” moniker.

Foxglove beardtongue has white tubular flowers that are very appealing to a variety of pollinators. Long-tongued bees, including mason bees and bumblebees, are attracted to and able to sip its nectar.  Hummingbirds will also partake. On the flowers’ white petals are violet lines that act as nectar guides for these insects, much like the lines on our roads or lights on runways, though none of these flying machines has the advantage of the excellent guidance provided by our local air traffic controllers and airport workers.

It is not only the nectar that is important to insects. A few species use this plant as a host plant, including the chalcedony midget moth (a subject for another time) and it will continue to be important even in the winter when its seed pods become a food source for birds.

It is not quite local to our area, since its indigenous range is more southerly than Massachusetts, though it has become naturalized and is reported as native to our area by some sources. Spreading by seeds and rhizomes, populations of this plant can expand, though it is not aggressive.

In a nutshell, this is one beard one needn’t worry about growing. As far as nicknames, I bet that Thomas would prefer to be known as just curious.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.