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Plant Spotlight: Foxglove (Digitalis)

Lisa is a writer and gardener with extensive knowledge of plants and plant care. Her articles focus on easy-care tips for home gardeners.

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.

Common Foxglove flower

Common Foxglove flower

Foxglove Specs

The Foxglove plant grows from 2 to 5 feet tall depending on the variety. Because of its 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.

Foxgloves in part-shade near my garage

Foxgloves in part-shade near my garage

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.

Common Problems

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.

Foxgloves planted along with Catmint

Foxgloves planted along with Catmint

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:

  • Salvia
  • Hollyhock
  • Veronica
  • Astilbe
  • Ferns
  • Old-fashioned Roses
  • Snapdragons
  • Phlox
  • Bearded Iris
  • Catmint
  • Delphinium

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

Folklore

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.

Popular Varieties

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.

Common Foxglove in my garden

Common Foxglove in my garden

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: I have white foxgloves that sprang up on their own in one of my flower beds. I’m growing medicinal and edible herbs in this same bed and want to know if these other plants can become toxic if grown nearby the foxglove or if the flowers or other parts of it touch the other plants?

Answer: I have never specifically heard of foxgloves affecting the nearby plants in this manner. I would check with a local horticulturist to be safe, but I believe it to be safe.

Question: I introduced foxgloves into my Lilly of the valley flower bed. Where the foxgloves thrived, the Lilly of the valley died out. Can you please explain this to me?

Answer: That is interesting as I have never heard of that happening before. Both like shade and have similar water needs. I wonder if maybe something else independent of the Foxgloves is attacking your lily of the valley. Has anything else changed this year? What's the weather been like?

© 2014 Lisa Roppolo

Comments

Diana Grant from United Kingdom on July 06, 2019:

I've grown lots of foxglove seedlings and will be planting them out this week. Your article has very useful information.

I would just say that if foxglove is toxic to animals, it might not be a good idea to grow it next to catmint, which is very attractive to cats. On the other hand, I think cats would be selective enough not to eat the wrong one!

Lisa Roppolo (author) from Joliet, IL on March 07, 2016:

Thanks!

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on March 07, 2016:

Lisa, congrats on HOTD! Beautiful pics on these flowers! This was a great hub that explores how beautiful and deadly these flowers can be. Very interesting and useful!

Lisa Roppolo (author) from Joliet, IL on March 07, 2016:

Thanks! and thanks for stopping by!

RTalloni on March 07, 2016:

Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for this fun flower hub. On Saturday a neighbor described this plant and asked me the name of it. I couldn't think of it at the time so thanks for the reminder!

Lisa Roppolo (author) from Joliet, IL on April 03, 2014:

Thank you!

Eugene Brennan from Ireland on April 03, 2014:

The catmint looks good as a backdrop to the foxgloves! I have a couple of plants and I think I'll group them in with my foxgloves and delphiniums.

Foxgloves are one of the easy to grow wild flowers. I usually grow them from seed and transplant the plants into their flowering positions in the fall. Self sown plants tend to get hoed away in my attempt to rid flower beds of all the other weeds!

Voted up - interesting and useful!

Raymond Philippe from The Netherlands on April 02, 2014:

This is absolutely one of my favorite flowers. When we are lucky we can even spot them in this area in the wild. The folklore you mentioned was new to me. Thanks for sharing. Voted up.