Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wildflower Wednesday, May 2014 -- Foxglove

Although not native to North America, foxgloves do grow wild here in the PNW, making a noticeable presence on roadsides and freeways at this time of year, and often giving PNWers the impression that it is a native wildflower. In fact, it is native to Great Britain and Europe, and may even be considered a noxious weed in parts of the U.S.

Foxglove, or Digitalis purpurea, was one of the first roadside wildflowers I was introduced to when I came here to western Washington for my first visit almost 10 years ago. I had them growing in my garden back in Massachusetts at that time, but had no idea that there were parts of the country where they had escaped cultivation and were growing in wild places. They often appear in areas that have been logged here in the PNW, but are not considered a noxious weed, certainly not on the order of Scotch broom, which currently blankets roadside areas with its pretty yellow pea-like flowers on ugly shrubs, and truly is threatening to displace native shrubs.

Foxglove growing at the side of the Sumner-Buckley Highway at the Fennel Creek trailhead in Bonney Lake, WA (the yellow shrub in the background is Scotch Broom)


Every year at this time I watch the roadsides for foxgloves to start flowering. I wanted to be sure and grow them in my own garden when we moved here, and tried just sprinkling seeds all along the fence that first year. They didn't take, which may have been because the yard care company I had that first year used to sprinkle Preen in my beds, before I had a chance to tell them not to.

That company is gone now, and last year I decided to try again. I sprinkled seeds under plastic cloches, and was overjoyed to see seedlings. That first year, all they do is make a small basal rosette. It's not till their second year that they flower, and since they are biennials, they die after flowering, and scatter their seeds. In hopes that I might have a self-perpetuating patch of them, I also planted three or four ready-to-flower ones last year. I'm hoping somewhere in my garden, first-year seedlings from those are germinating now, and will flower next year.

Digitalis flowers in a tall spire, with flowers that open from bottom to top slowly over the course of a month or so. When that first tall spire is finished, they often produce shorter side shoots. Once fertilized, the flowers form seedpods, which break open later in the fall, and spill tiny, dust-like seeds onto the soil.

Digitalis has several different common names, foxglove being only one. It's also called witches' thimbles and fairy's petticoat, which led the naturalist James Britten to claim that foxglove is a derivation of folk's glove. Apparently, it isn't. The linguistic evidence shows that it has been called foxglove quite consistently from about 1000 A.D. onward. And it's called foxglove in other languages, where the words for "fox" and "folk" (as in wee folk) have no similarity.

It's one of the few plants whose healing properties have been accepted by modern medicine, and has been cultivated in the past for its leaves which are the source for a heart stimulating medication also called Digitalis. Its extremely potent stimulant properties have also given it another common name of dead man's thimbles. Currently Digitalis lanata is the source of the glycosides that give the drug Digitalis its potency.

Foxgloves in the morning sun, flowering in my garden

It's one of those flowers that shouts "Cottage Garden!"

It's said the spots are where the wee folk have touched the flower with their hands.

Can you picture a little fairy crawling around in there?

I have a white one too, but I'm not as fond of the white as I am of the pinkish-purple, spotted ones.

Digitalis is one of the parents of this year's "It" plant, Digiplexis, providing the "Digi' part of its name (the other parent is a tropical Digitalis relative, Isoplexis).

Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame' in my sunny front garden

The flower is similar, but with very hot tropical colors

I won't be a bit surprised to find that many of you are growing foxglove in your gardens. It's a popular and easy to grow plant.

Wildflower Wednesday is hosted by Gail at the blog Clay and Limestone, and appears on the fourth Wednesday of every month. You can read her May post here, and don't forget to visit all the other blogs that are also posting about wildflowers.

21 comments:

  1. I love Digitalis in all its forms. The wild spotted one is lovely, specially in a natural setting but I also love the primrose yellow one or the the strawberry coloured , Digitalis mertonensis. The rusty coloured Digitalis ferruginea is lovely too and if you have lots of different kinds you often get interesting crosses although these are sterile.
    But you are talking about wild foxgloves and perhaps these are the loveliest.

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  2. They are almost a weed for me.. I even have them growing in the house roof!
    But although I pull up an awful lot I keep several clumps of them around the garden because they are so pretty and yes, a real cottage garden plant.

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  3. You made some beautiful pictures of your foxgloves, especially the Digiplexus √Źllumination Flame" in hot colours is magnificent. Here in the Netherlands they don´t grow along the roads, but are seen in many gardens. I have have various cultivars, but the normal wild one grows best. And go on year after year, one year with only a few plants and the other year with a whole field. They are wonderful!

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  4. I have some tiny Digitalis obscura I grew from seed this year …next years blooms.

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  5. I've never grown Foxgloves. I've never seen them growing wild. Mama never grew them. Maybe we're too hot and humid for their liking.

    In the fall, we do have native Agalinis, false foxglove.

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  6. Funny you mention that Scotch broom blooms "pretty yellow flowers on ugly plants." I feel just the opposite about it. I think the plants are pretty but the flowers are ugly. To each his own, right. ... I love foxgloves. Whenever I see them I think of big, fat bumblebees crawling inside to find the nectar. ... On my blog post: Please do visit Mindy Northrup's blog. She's delightful. She lives in Portland and is an awesome gardener but doesn't know very many fellow gardeners. Take care.

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  7. I've had foxglove appear spontaneously in my garden, and also Mullein, but not for a while. I guess the seed lies dormant. Yours looks great, and the Digiplexus is actually the warmer colors I like better, perhaps it will be on my list someday.

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  8. Gorgeous flowers and I know the wee folk are glad you've planted them. It's good to know they are naturalized by not a noxious weed. The container you have in the second photo is killer! Love it. Happy WW.

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  9. I've always been partial to Foxgloves because they are so pretty. We are too hot to grow them except as annuals in bud from the nursery but we do have some native penstemon lookalikes that I enjoy.

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  10. I love foxgloves. I planted quite a few D. purpurea this year and also had a number of seedlings spring up from plantings in prior years. Sadly, the heat we had cooked many of them and those that remain are stunted. While I've grown them in nearly full sun in the past, I think I'll put them in partial shade in the future. In contrast, the Digiplexis seemed to take the heat in stride. I'm glad you weren't put off by that plant's over-exposure - it's perfect for your color scheme. In my garden, D. x mertonensis is also holding its own.

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  11. Nice post, Alison - I love the origins of the name, thanks for sharing. I do love the white ones, if yours goes to seed, I'll gladly take them off your hand in exchange for some purple pink ones in my garden :)

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  12. I did not know that the foxglove is not native here. I do love them and always have some in my garden. I have fewer this year, partly because Tom mulched so heavily, I think. I will need to scatter seed this year.

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  13. Ha! Like Linda I had no idea they weren't native, all this time I've thought they were. Last weekend Andrew and I took a quick trip up your way, once again I was blown away by the Scotch broom along I-5, wow! It's insane, I do however think the shrubs quite attractive and was thrilled to discover the "good broom" Genista aetnensis.

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  14. Foxgloves in the wild is quite a sight especially when they flourish on an area after a tree has been felled.

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  15. Beautiful photos and very informative post! I used to grow it here but it died out and I've never replaced it. I should get on that.

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  16. Hi again. I love your post on foxglove since this is also one of my favorites. It is such an interesting flower, and it seems so majestic to me. I have not heard of the digiplexis? Got to go find some of it. Thanks for educating me!

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  17. My neighborhood is oddly lacking in foxgloves. There are a few, but not many. I had one clump on the edge of the woods but it died and the seeds failed to germinate or thrive. Too shady. While I loath Scotch broom, there is a short stretch along the highway a few miles from my house where some plants have developed other colors and I have to admit they are both interesting and pretty, but maybe that's the hybridizer in me. There's the normal yellow, yellow and red bicolors, a sort of salmon pink, and a good rusty red. On one side of the highway the owner has reduced the stand to only a few, well-spaced plants with a good mix of colors. It's still invasive but I have to give that person props for their selective eye.

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  18. I really like the white foxglove and 'Illumination Flame'. I grow only the perennial yellow foxglove.

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  19. Fabulous examples of a beloved flower....I hope mine return this year.

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  20. what an amazing and beloved plant...I hope mine returns this year.

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  21. The foxgloves growing wild along the roadside make every trip to the grocery store a pleasure this time of year.

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