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Digitalis purpurea
Digitalis purpurea

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Zone
Zones vary by species.
Regular Water
Moderate
Toxicity
All parts are poisonous

Digitalis

Foxglove
Scrophulariaceae
Perennials, Flowers

Mainly from Europe, Mediterranean region. Erect plants grow to 2–8 ft. high and form low clumps of hairy gray-green leaves topped by spikes of tubular flowers shaped like fingertips of a glove; colors include purple, yellow, white, pastels. Blossoms attract hummingbirds.

Common foxglove (D. pupurea) is widely grown for its height and color display in shaded gardens, though it will thrive in full sun in cool-summer regions. In parts of California and the Pacific Northwest, it has escaped from gardens to decorate roadsides. Other, less-well-known species are deserving subjects for borders, woodland edges, and larger rock gardens. Most tend to be biennials, but some can be coaxed into a second year of bloom if spent flowers are removed before they set seed.

Foxgloves need moist, well-drained soil, and they appreciate enrichment of the soil. Set out plants in fall for bloom the following spring and summer. Sow seed in spring. Control snails and slugs. After the first flowering, cut off the main spike; side shoots will develop and bloom late in the season. In hottest climates, plants will usually die out in summer heat. Plants self-sow freely; blooms of volunteers are often white or light-colored.

Digitalis purpurea (photo courtesy of Thomas J. Story)
Digitalis purpurea (photo courtesy of Thomas J. Story)

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Digitalis purpurea

Biennial or short-lived perennial. Variable, appearing in many garden forms. Bold, erect growth to 4 ft. or taller, with stems rising from clumps of large, rough, woolly light green leaves. Short-stalked stem leaves become smaller toward top of plant; these are the source of digitalis, a valued but highly poisonous medicinal drug. Pendulous flowers 2–3 in. long, borne in one-sided, 1–2-ft.-long spikes, purple with darker spots on lower, paler side. Grows in partial or full shade; can take full sun in cool-summer climates.

Digitalis x mertonensis (photo courtesy of Annie’s Annuals & Perennials)
Digitalis x mertonensis (photo courtesy of Annie’s Annuals & Perennials)

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Digitalis x mertonensis

Spikes to 2–3 ft. high, bearing attractive coppery rose blooms above a foot-wide clump of furry leaves. Though a hybrid, it comes true from seed. Partial or full shade; can take full sun in cool-summer climates.

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