Foxgloves are eye-catching flowering plants. These are tall, slender plants with tubular blooms. Most fast-growing varieties are biennials that live for only two growing seasons, but some species can survive as perennials in some climates.
Foxglove seeds can be sown directly into the soil in late summer. Because of their height (6 feet tall!), foxglove plants are good for the back row of a flower border. Foxglove plants are among the most poisonous plants commonly grown in home landscapes. Do not grow them if small children or pets will be spending time in your yard.
|Botanical Name||Digitalis purpurea|
|Common Name||Foxglove, witches glove, dead man's bells, fairy bells|
|Mature Size||2 to 5 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial sun, or partial shade|
|Soil Type||Well-draining, loamy soil|
|Soil pH||4.5 to 8.3|
|Bloom Time||Early summer (late spring in warm zones)|
|Flower Color||Pink, purple, red, white, and yellow|
|Hardiness Zones||4-10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe and Northwest Africa|
|Toxicity||Highly toxic to humans, livestock, and pets|
Plant taxonomy classifies the most commonly grown foxglove plants as Digitalis purpurea. Most types of foxglove plants are grouped with the biennials in the field of botany. The first year, the plant has leaves that form a rosette close to the ground. The second (and final) year, it develops a spike with blooms. Under the right growing conditions, foxglove often lasts longer, blooming another year or two beyond what their "biennial" status would warrant. In this case, they may be considered herbaceous perennials. The most reliable perennial species is Digitalis grandiflora.
Their blooms include multiple tubular, often freckled, flowers that form on a spike. They are usually nodding flowers that range in color from purple to white. The white ones can be used in moon gardens. These tall specimens are also considered classic plants for cottage gardens and they are among the flowers that attract hummingbirds.
The scientific genus name Digitalis refers to the fact that foxglove flowers are just about the right size for slipping your fingers into, as the Latin translation of digitalis is "measuring a finger's breadth." (It is easy to remember this name origin since fingers are often referred to as "digits.")
Grow foxglove plants in full sun, partial sun, or partial shade. Once mature, they tolerate dry shade but not full shade. Tailor the amount of sunshine you give this biennial to your climate. If you live in the south, give it some shade. In the north, you can grow it in a range of sunlight conditions, from full sun to partial shade, although it will perform best in partial sun.
Foxgloves like rich, well-draining soil that's acidic, with a pH under 6.0.
Foxglove is susceptible to crown rot, so provide it with good drainage. Keep the soil moist, but not soaked. If there is a dry period in the summer and it hasn't received 1 inch of rain in a week or the top 2 inches of soil is dry, water the plant with a drip hose.
Temperature and Humidity
Foxgloves tend to do better in cooler temperatures and may wilt in temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. They do not have any humidity requirements. The seeds will germinate when temperatures reach between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Try to provide good air circulation by giving them sufficient spacing.
Apply a 3-inch layer of mulch for winter protection if your region is borderline zone 4. Then apply a 1-inch layer of compost around the plant in early spring to encourage growth. Fertilizer is not necessary and excess nitrogen can harm the flower growth. You can add a small handful of slow-release 5-10-5 fertilizer in the early spring. Scatter it around the plant and then water over the fertilizer to help it settle. Avoid having the fertilizer touch the foliage, as it may burn the plant.
Is Foxglove Toxic?
As with many poisonous plants, foxglove flowers, stems, and roots are poisonous to both people and pets. The plant contains cardiac glycosides such as digitoxin, digoxin, and digitalin. The foxglove plant is actually the source of the heart medication known as digitalis.
Symptoms of Poisoning
For people and animals, symptom include gastric upset, labored breathing, and cardiac abnormality. Call 911 for people who've ingested foxglove, and rush to the emergency vet if an animal has eaten it.
- 'Goldcrest': This variety has yellowy-peach blooms and lance-shaped dark green leaves.
- 'Sunset' D. obscura': Also called willow-leaved foxglove, this has orange flowers and is native to Spain and Africa.
- 'Candy Mountain': With bright, rosy-pink flowers, this variety faces upwards rather than nodding down.
- 'Summer King' D. x mertonensis: Also called strawberry foxglove, this is a hybrid plant of D. purpurea and D. grandiflora with very large, coppery-pink blossoms.
Foxgloves come in different sizes and should be spaced accordingly, but as a general rule, it is good to space them about 2 feet apart. Stake the taller types to prevent them from flopping over in a wind storm. Do not deadhead these biennials if you want them to reseed for you.
Complicating any positive life-cycle identification for the novice is the fact that foxglove plants often reseed themselves. As a result, what appears to be the same plant coming up again from last year may actually be a seedling from the original plant.
How to Grow Foxglove From Seed
Because of it's toxicity, always wear gloves when handling any part of the foxglove plant, including the seeds, and wash your hands well afterward.
Foxglove seeds can be sown in pots, from late fall through early spring. Sow them on top of the soil, but do not bury them: Foxglove seeds need bright, indirect light in order to germinate. Then, soak the soil with water. Seeds should germinate in 20-30 days.
Cut spent foxglove back to the crown, then cover in a blanket of mulch to insulate it for the winter.
Foxglove attracts aphids, beetles, mealybugs, nematodes, and mites. It is also plagued by anthracnose, crown rot from white fungal spores, verticillium wilt, and leaf spot.
Digitalis purpurea. North Carolina State University Extension