Foxglove Flower

Facts about the Foxglove Flower

A striking addition to any garden is the foxglove flower; a biennial that once graced Victorian gardens remains a favorite today.  Their tall size and vibrant floral blooms make them especially dramatic in shade gardens in need of color.

Indigenous to Europe, northern regions of Africa and western regions of Asian, the plant has the ability to adapt well to a variety of conditions; growing in fields or in cottage garden settings.  Foxgloves can flourish in most climates.  In regions that are known for high heat, the plants must be kept in the shade, whereas in northern areas they can do well in part sun.

As a biennial, foxglove plants will flower only every other year, unless planted in sequence.  Biennials are plants that need more than one season to complete their growing and seed producing cycle.  The first year is spent devoting time to growth of the stem, leaves and roots, after which the plant goes into hibernation, or dormancy, for the winter. The following spring, the stem emerges once again, shooting forth to greater heights than the leafy portion of the plant; forming a spire.  It is upon this spire that closed buds will form in columns.

The foxglove flower itself is an elegant, stately display.  The bell shaped flutes can be the most common purple, or can appear in pinks or white as well.  All colors are accented by a freckled pattern scattered upon the pale interior of the bell.  The trumpet-like blooms cluster together on the tall stem in a dramatic presence that hummingbirds and bees find irresistible.   It is the shape of the blooms that provide the name “foxglove” to the plant, although the actual derivative of the name is unknown.

Despite its beautiful appearance and its appeal to hummingbirds and bees, foxglove has another feature that gardeners must acknowledge before including it in their garden plans:  every part of the plant is highly toxic.  There have been reports of people being poisoned by simply inhaling the spores exuded by the seed pods that form in the fall.  So dangerous is the plant when consumed or through inhalation that it has become known by a few other names such as Dead Man’s Bells and Witch’s Gloves.  For the gardener who has small children or pets that may wander through the garden, impulsively placing little fingers or little noses into the thimble sized blooms, growing foxglove plants may not be the best idea.  The leaves are particularly toxic, proving to be potentially life threatening if simply chewed upon.  It should not be overlooked, however, that the entire plant is poisonous, including the roots.

The toxin that makes foxglove poisonous to humans is an extremely beneficial substance in the hands of medical professionals, however.  It began being utilized by herbalists and in folk medicines long ago, but became a discontinued practice because of the drug’s volatile nature.  Later, trained researchers and scientists correctly realized the properties of the drug and how to apply it toward improving health conditions.   An extract of digitalis purpurea is used to create medicines that are highly useful in treating heart conditions.  It can be very successful in controlling the heart rate and to increase the ability of the heart to contract.  The medicines produced by foxglove are called digitalin.  Overdosing on the digitalis can also prove to be harmful; causing conditions such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice and blurred vision.

When the full properties of the foxglove plant are fully understood and accommodated by the gardener, foxglove can be a beautiful addition to the garden.  Despite its toxic attributes, it can certainly be a striking display of colorful blooms in the garden.