Plant Spotlight: Foxglove (Digitalis)
Foxglove: A Biennial or Perennial?
Native to western and southwestern Europe, Foxgloves have naturalized in the U.S. and the wild versions are now considered a noxious weed by the USDA. This is because the Foxglove plant self-sows seed very easily. It is a biennial that really acts like a perennial because of this.
If you let your Foxglove plants go to seed, they will self-sow in your garden. For most, this isn't a problem because they will fill in an area and provide a wonderful, tall backdrop for other plants.
Foxgloves in the wild are commonly found in woodland areas, edges of woods, clearings, fields and fence rows.
The Foxglove plant grows from 2 to 5 feet tall depending on the variety. Because of it's biennial nature, the second year of growth will produce taller spikes and more abundant flowers. It grows well in part-shade to full shade (morning sun followed by afternoon shade) in most areas. In northern gardens, it is possible to grow in full-sun if summers are on the mild side. It is considered low-maintenance, but does prefer soil to be more on the acidic side and well-draining. If left to seed, it will self-sow year after year. They are deer resistant and make a good cutting flower.
Foxgloves and Toxicity
If you have pets or young children, it isn't recommended you grow Foxglove or bring cuttings into the house. The entire plant is extremely toxic if ingested and can cause skin irritation if rubbed up against or handled without gloves. If ingested please call your poison control center immediately.
Some of the symptoms of Foxglove poisoning include: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drooling, abnormal heart rate and many other grave symptoms.
How to Grow Foxgloves
You can purchase starts from the garden nursery to get a head start if needed. Otherwise, they are very easy to start from seed. To get a head start on the growing season, I usually sow my seeds directly into the planting bed in late summer. This gives them time to put out leaves and a sound root system before winter. Then in the early summer, plants will be able to put out flowers. This is one way to kind of get around the fact that Foxgloves are better in their second year of growth. The seeds like to be surface sown, so just barely cover with soil and water well.
Foxgloves are pretty hearty, but can sometimes succumb to two issues: Powdery mildew and Crown Rot. Both of these issues can be combated simply. To prevent powdery mildew, make sure your plants have proper air circulation and that they aren't planted too close together from each other and other plants in your landscape. Second, to prevent crown rot, make sure the soil they are planted in is well-draining.
Applications in the Garden
Foxgloves are an excellent back-of-the-border plant to add height to any garden. They come in a variety of colors, mostly pastel and give an old-fashioned feel to any garden. They are perfect for cottage gardens, bee, hummingbird and butterfly gardens (Foxgloves attract bees like crazy!), and along fences.
Some great companions for Foxgloves are:
- Old-fashioned Roses
- Bearded Iris
Other Names for Foxgloves
- Folk's Glove
- Virgin Glove
- Fairy Caps
- Witches Gloves
- Dead Men's Bells
- Fairy's Gloves
- Gloves of our Lady
- Bloody Fingers
Foxgloves have a rich and colorful folklore. The name Foxglove is derivative from "Folk's Glove". The "Folk" they are referring to are fairies aka the tiny folk who live in the woods where the plant likes to grow.
Foxglove plants are also referred to as Bee Catchers. Lore says the path of the spots inside the Foxglove flower are the marks of elven fingers that lead the bee towards the nectar inside. The form of the flower is perfect for pollen gathering; the stamens of the flower are located on the inside roof of the bloom and the pollen gets distributed along the bee's back as it goes flower to flower collecting nectar.
It is said if planted near a door, it will invite fairies to your home. If worn or carried on your person, it will invoke protection by fairies.
Some of the most common varieties on the market today are:
Camelot Rose: Deep rose-burgundy.
Candy Mountain: Rose-pink with upward facing flowers.
Dalmatian Peach: pink-peach flowers.
Dalmatian Purple: lavender-purple flowers.
Pam's Choice: White with dark maroon throats.
Foxy Mix: Three foot variety in shades of pink, yellow, rose and purple.
Shirley: Mix of pastel colors.
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© 2014 Lisa Roppolo
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