671 Digitalis purpureaCommon Names: foxglove, purple foxglove, finger flower, fairy glove Family: Scrophulariaceae (figwort Family)
Foxglove is a short lived perennial with dark green or white-wooly leaves that are 5-10" long and mostly arranged in a basal rosette. For the first year, the plant develops its roots and stays in the basal rosette. In the second year, foxglove sends up one or more flowering stalks that can reach 3-5' in height and have smaller leaves that decrease in size upward. The flowers are tubular, shaped like the fingers of a glove, about 2" long, purple, lavender, pink, white, cream or yellow, and often with purple and white spots or streaks on the inside of the corolla. Flowers are on one side of the spike only, and in most forms, they droop downward. They bloom in late spring and early summer, usually for about four weeks.
Foxglove is very variable throughout its natural range, and several subspecies, varieties and forms have been named. Gardeners have produced several hybrids, and many cultivars have been selected. 'Alba' has white flowers. 'Giant Shirley' has larger bell-shaped pink flowers with crimson spots. 'Gloxinioides' has fringed flowers that can be pink, yellow or purple and are blotched on the inside of the corolla. 'Excelsior Hybrids' have pink, white or yellow flowers that stand out horizontally and are arranged all around the spike rather than just on one side. 'Foxy' is smaller and is the only foxglove that flowers in its first season from seed. D. X mertonensis (strawberry foxglove) is a very robust tetraploid hybrid created by crossing D. purpurea with the perennial, yellow foxglove (D. grandiflora); it has coppery-pink flowers that are larger than either parent, it lives and blooms for several years, and it comes true from seed. Strawberry foxglove was created in 1925 by gardeners at the John Innes Horticultural Institute in England.
Common foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, is native to western Europe, including the British Isles, and has become naturalized in other parts of Europe, Asia, North Africa, Canada, and much of the US. Digitalis purpurea
CultureFoxglove does best in cool climates in moist, acidic soil with abundant organic material. Light: Foxglove does best in partial shade. Moisture: Foxglove needs regular watering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 9. Common foxglove grows in USDA hardiness zones 4-9. Strawberry foxglove is hardy to zone 3. Propagation: Foxglove is usually treated as a biennial. Seeds are sown in late summer or autumn and flowering occurs the following spring and summer. Seeds should not be covered, germinating best at temperatures of 70-80F and exposed to light. Under the right conditions, foxglove will self-sow.
Foxgloves are great plants for shady borders and naturalistic woodland gardens. They add a bold, vertical dimension to flower beds, and to shady gardens of ferns, columbine and meadow rue. Use a white flowered variety to brighten up a shady corner. Hummingbirds visit the flowers, but pollination typically is carried out by honeybees. Foxglove often will naturalize in a partly shaded or woodland setting, but it has never been considered invasive or a nuisance.
Since they usually won't survive to bloom a second year, foxgloves can be removed after releasing their seeds for next year's plants (or right after flowering if you don't want them to reseed). Another trick is to cut the flowering stalk after blooming and more shoots will grow and bloom later in the season.
The dried leaves of common foxglove are the principal source of the important heart drug, digitalis. Originally called "folkesglove" (glove of little folks or fairies), in Olde England, today foxglove is grown commercially for the leaves which yield powerful cardiac glycosides that strengthen and regulate heartbeat. Extreme caution must be used in administering digitalis since the lethal dose is only slightly stronger than the therapeutic dose.
There are about 3000 species in about 200 genera of "Scrophs", as the figwort family is nicknamed. They occur on every continent except Antarctica. There are about 20 species of Digitalis.
All parts of foxglove are poisonous if ingested. Even rabbits and deer avoid the leaves of foxglove.
Steve Christman 4/23/00; updated 5/21/12