Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

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.