This lovely native European woodland plant is a beauty to add to any garden, a popular biennial for shaded places, perennial if the flower stems are cut back promptly to prevent seeding.
The plants form rosettes of fleshy, lance shaped leaves in their first growing season which are unremarkable in appearance. But, in the spring this rosette begins to shoot skyward with leaves shrinking in size as they near the flowering scape.
Older plants may produce several blooming scapes, but young plants are usually unbranched.
The beautiful large spikes begin opening their drooping bell shaped blooms at the base of the scape, while the blooms above it are progressively smaller as they await their day of opening. The inside of the tubular flower is lighter coloured and marked with dark irregular blotches.
Digitalis are handsome and easy if watered well in dry weather, and look spectacular at the back of a border. The blooms are extremely attractive to bees
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. The seedlings that spring up are easily transplanted to the location you want them to bloom.
Sowing: Sow indoors in March to May or sow directly outdoors in May to June or September to October
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 March to May, 10 to 12 weeks before last frost. 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 May to June or September to October directly in a well prepared seedbed. Sow seed very thinly in drills 30cm (12in) apart. Firm down gently. Keep the plants moist and free of weeds. Thin out the seedlings to 15cm (6in) apart when large enough to handle.
Digitalis purpurea foxgloves are biennial which means that 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 through August 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.
Shade/Woodland Garden. Cottage/Informal Garden, Cut Flower Arranging, Flowers Borders and Beds, Wildflower Gardens or Wildlife Gardens
Digitalis is a classic example of a drug derived from a plant formerly used by folklorists and herbalists.
In 1775 an English physician named William Withering, acting on a account supplied by an herbal healer, reported that a tea made from it was useful in curing dropsy, the fluid accumulation often associated with heart-related problems. Since that time, the drug digitalin has become one of the old, generic drugs doctors consider the first line of defense against heart-related ailments.
Digitalis slows the heart but provides a source of medicine used by doctors in heart medicine. In pure form are referred to by common chemical names such as digitoxin or digoxin, or by brand names such as Lanoxin, or Purgoxin. Herbalists have largely abandoned its use because of its narrow therapeutic index and the difficulty of determining the amount of active drug in herbal preparations.
The whole foxglove plant is extremely poisonous. 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.
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 is a genus of about twenty species of herbaceous biennials, perennials and shrubs that was traditionally placed in the figwort family Scrophulariaceae. Due to new genetic research, it has now been placed in the much enlarged family Plantaginaceae.
In 1542, Leonhart Fuchs (or Leonhard Fuchs, 1501-1566) a German physician and one of the three founding fathers of botany after whom fuchsia is named, gave the plant it's current Latin moniker - Digitalis
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 species epitaph purpurea was adapted by Linnaeus two centuries later.
Folklore & Legend:
The English name comes not from foxes, but from the phrase 'folk’s gloves' meaning belonging to the fairy folk.
Folklore tells that bad fairies gave the flowers to the fox to magically sheath their paws as they stealthily made their nocturnal raids into the poultry yards of rural folk. The association is natural for the foxgloves grew on the wooded hillside slopes that foxes chose for their dens. Not surprisingly, the flower meaning of Foxglove is insincerity. Another common name is “Fairy Thimbles”
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.
- Additional Information
Family Plantaginaceae Genus Digitalis Species purpurea Cultivar Wildflower of Britain and Ireland Common Name Native Pink Foxglove
Wildflower of Britain and Ireland
Other Language Names IR. Lus mór Hardiness Hardy Biennial Flowers Pale to dark pink Natural Flower Time Late spring to mid summer Foliage Mid Green Herbaceous (Velvet / Fuzzy) Height 60 to 90cm (24-36in) Spread 45 to 60cm (18-24in) Position Partial to Full Shade Soil Well-drained/light, Clay/heavy, Dry or Moist Time to Sow Late spring to early summer. Germination 2 to 4 weeks at 20°C (68°F).