Digitalis ferruginea 'Gigantea' is an interesting and exotic looking foxglove and a native of the northern Mediterranean. Elegant, leafy spires arise from a rosette of dark green leaves, followed by closely packed, golden blooms, which are 3.5cm (1.5in) long.
The species name ferruginous, is taken from the Latin ferrum meaning Iron, hence the common name of 'Rusty Foxglove'. Each orchid like flower has an interior of rich red to dark brown veins, with fine soft hairs on the tips.
Growing 160 to 180cm (5 to 6ft) tall, this unusual variation will add height to a shady corner of the garden and looks lovely dotted among ferns or other woodland plants and spectacular at the back of a border.
Completely hardy and totally perennial, given the right conditions it will also perpetuate by self-seeding. The blooms are extremely attractive to bees.
- Awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit
Digitalis ferruginea has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM). The RHS Floral A Committee commented that it had a “solid flower spike that was neat, not gaudy”.
Sowing: Sow indoors in late winter to spring or sow directly outdoors in late summer to autumn
Sow seeds on the surface of a peaty soil. Do not cover or bury seeds as the seed needs light to germinate, just press seeds lightly into the earth. Keep seed in constant moisture (not wet) they will usually germinate in 2 to 4 weeks at around 20°C (68°F).
Sow in late winter to spring Sow seed thinly in trays of compost and place in a cold frame or greenhouse. Once germination occurs keep in cooler conditions. Prick out each seedling as it becomes large enough to handle, transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots or trays to grow on. Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out once all risk of frost has gone. Transplant to the flowering position planting 30cm (12in) apart.
Sow in late summer to autumn directly in a well prepared bed. Sow very thinly in drills 30cm (12in) apart. Firm down. Keep the plants moist and free of weeds. Thin out the seedlings to 15cm (6in) apart when large enough to handle.
The plants establish and grow leaves in the first year, it will send up large spikes, then flower and produce seeds in the second. As a rule, they are hardy plants and can cope with any soil unless it is very wet or very dry. They are fairly disease resistant, although the leaves may suffer slightly from powdery mildew if the summer is hot and humid.
If you cut the stalk down before it goes to seed, it will generally rebloom and, if you wish, you can reseed from the second showing. Self-sown seedlings producing different shifting, untutored patterns of flowers each year, they can be easily transplanted to the location you want them to bloom. They are best transplanted when the leaves are about 10cm long. Make sure the newly moved plants are watered very well to help them establish.
Cover the flowerspikes with paper bags (such as those used by bakers to wrap baguettes) to collect the seeds. When the seedheads have dried, shake them to remove the seed and scatter them where you want them to grow.
Digitalis is a source of digitalin used in cardiac medicine, it slows the heart. The whole foxglove plant is toxic, no part is edible and if eaten it will cause severe discomfort, in a child or small animal it could cause death. Fortunately it tastes very bitter and causes irritation of the mucous membranes in the mouth, actually causing pain and swelling. It also causes diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, so if it does get in, it soon comes out!
Because of these factors, it is not really a problem for wildlife, human or otherwise. However if you ever find a child who has been around this plant with symptoms of oral irritation, grab a stem or two and get to the emergency room! Wear gloves when handling plants or seeds, plant only where children or animals will not have access.
Shade/Woodland Garden. Cottage/Informal Garden, Cut Flower Arranging, Flowers Borders and Beds, Wildflower Gardens or Wildlife Gardens
If foxgloves are grown near most plants they will stimulate growth and help to resist disease and if grown near apples, potatoes and tomatoes their storage qualities will he greatly improved. Foxgloves in a flower arrangement make all the other flowers last longer - if you do not want the actual flowers in the vase make some foxglove tea from the stems or blossoms and add to the water.
Digitalis ferruginea is native to Hungary, Romania, Turkey and the Caucasus.
The genus Digitalis was traditionally placed in the figwort family, Scrophulariaceae, but phylogenetic research led taxonomists to move it to the Veronicaceae in 2001. More recent phylogenetic work has placed it in the much enlarged family Plantaginaceae.
The name Digitalis is a latinisation of the German name 'fingernut' from the Latin digitus meaning 'a finger'. The flower resembles the finger of a glove. The English name comes not from foxes, but from the phrase 'folks' gloves' because it was thought that the flowers were used as gloves by fairy folk. Another common name is “Fairy Thimbles”
The species name is taken from the word ferruginous, meaning “of the colour of iron rust: brown-yellowish red.” which is taken from the Latin ferrum meaning Iron. If you remember your chemistry lessons the symbol for Iron is Fe
Folklore & Legend:
The flower meaning is insincerity – Folklore tells that bad fairies gave the flowers to the fox to put on his feet to soften his steps whilst hunting ! The foxglove was believed to keep evil at bay if grown in the garden, but it was considered unlucky to bring the blooms inside
The National Collection:
The National Collection of Digitalis is held at T.A. Baker, The Botanic Nursery, Rookery Nurseries, Cottles Lane, Atworth, Melksham, Wiltshire SN12 8HU. Tel: 07850 328 756 for opening hours.
- Awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit
- Additional Information
Packet Size 100mg Average Seed Count 200 Seeds Family Plantaginaceae Genus Digitalis Species ferruginea Cultivar Gigantea Synonym Digitalis aurea Common Name Perennial Foxglove, Rusty Foxglove Other Language Names IR: Lus mór. Hardiness Hardy Biennial Flowers Golden-brown with red interior. Late spring to mid summer Foliage Semi evergreen lance shaped, Rosette Height 160 to 180cm (5 to 6ft) Spread 45cm (18in) Position Prefers partial shade Soil Moist but well drained, fertile soil. Notes Robust biennial or short-lived perennial