Foxgloves, or Digitalis purpurea, are remarkable both for their charming fairy tale flowers and the use of digitalis in heart medications. It’s a highly toxic plant if ingested yet enchanting in a cottage-style garden.
For more ideas, see Flowering Perennials for a Cottage-Style Garden.
Foxglove | Digitalis spp.
Foxglove Growing Guide
Biennial herbaceous plant
• Foliage-year one, flowers-year two
• Fertile, well-draining soil
• Not native to North America
• Invasive in warm climates like California
• Best seed germination temperature range: 60-65°F (15-18°C)
Any time growing Foxglove (Digitalis) is discussed, someone mentions that it is toxic to ingest. And that’s true. And so are many other plants.
While I would avoid it (and lots of other things) if you have pets or kids that would try and eat it or any other plants, it is not considered harmful just growing in a garden. I have been growing it for years and it is a favorite along with delphiniums, hollyhocks, and peonies but only you can judge what’s best in your growing space.
Digitalis has intriguing flowers, often peppered with polka-dots on multi-colored tubular petals.
These plants are biennials in cold climates.
This means in year one the plant forms the stem and leaves. In year two, the flowers appear. Following that, seeds are produced.
The plant may become unproductive after that, but, if left alone, the fallen seeds may germinate and produce new plants nearby. This certainly works for me: the less I disturb the foxgloves and the surrounding soil, the more plants I get.
How Foxglove Got Its Name
The name foxglove has its origin in Old English, though the exact meaning of the original words is not certain. We think it comes from either fairy gloves or fairy music. Either way, it’s clear that people were as enchanted with them years ago as we are today.
The proper plant name, Digitalis, comes from the Latin word digitus, meaning finger or digit, which is much less romantic but equally true. The long tubes of the flowers are indeed like fingers or bell-bottom pants, if you’re old enough to remember what those are.
The most common foxglove in our gardens is Digitalas purpurea and this grows to about 2-3 feet in height.
Occasionally on garden tours I see incredibly tall varieties reaching 6-8 feet. I am not sure if they are purpureas or some other cultivar, but wow, they are fabulous. And, because the stems tend be so thick, they don’t flop over. Combined with the pinks, purples, creams, and yellows, they are wonderful flowers.
I love watching as various pollinators come by. Many different bees are attracted to the nectar, and climb right into the flower tubes to get their fill.
Foxglove Plant Facts & Growing Tips
|Best-known species||Digitalis purpurea|
|Origin||Western and southwestern Europe, central Asia, northwestern Africa|
|Forms foliage in year one, blooms in year two, may be unproductive after that, though may self-seed for new plants.|
|Height||19-inches to 8-feet tall (average 3-feet tall)|
|Light||Partial sun, shade|
|Soil||Likes fertile, acidic, well-drained soil|
|Flower times||Summer | deadhead or cutback after flowering|
|Colours||Reds, pinks, purples, yellows, whites|
|USDA Zones||Digitalis purpurea zones 4-8|
|Dependants||Foxglove mug (moth) larvae consume the flowers; lesser yellow underwing (moth) consumes the leaves.|
|Propagation||Divide root clumps; seeds|
|Pruning / Cutting back||Can cut back flowers for more blooms; leave flowers if you want seeds|
|Problems||Invasive in some areas; all parts of plant are toxic; susceptible to fungal diseases (powdery mildew, anthracnose, leaf spot, crown rot), pests (aphids, snails, Japanese beetles)|
|Trivia | Uses||The name ‘fox’s gloves’ has its origin in Old English though the etymology is uncertain. The name may have derived from original names meaning fairy gloves or fairy music.The genus name Digitalis is from the Latin digitus (finger). Medicinal drugs including digoxin, which contains cardiac glycosides, are prepared from various Digitalis (foxglove) plants. This medicine is used to increase the contraction of the heart.The entire Digitalis plant is toxic, including roots and seeds.|
Find Your Frost Dates & Hardiness Zone
- Plant Hardiness Zones | United States | Canada
These are listed on seed packets and plant tags to guide your choices.
Frequently Asked Questions
1Is Digitalis invasive?
Yes, in some areas. The most common foxglove, Digitalis purpurea is considered invasive in parts of California but not in a cold climate like I live in here in Ontario, Canada.
Always check with your local extension office or governing body that oversees invasive species for specific information. I’ve listed my go-to plant databases and resources here.
2Can I grow foxgloves in containers?
Just about any flowering plant including foxgloves can grow in containers with proper conditions and care.
You will need to provide good quality potting mix, adequate water and shade, and frost-free shelter for the winter months, to prevent the container from freezing or breaking.
‘Overwintering’ requires the gradual introduction to storage conditions (out of freezing weather) and reintroduction in spring. Here’s an example with my fig trees.
3Do foxgloves attract pollinators?
Yes, hummingbirds and bees are both attracted to the flowers. The flower shape is best-suited for the long proboscis of the hummingbird. Bees can be seen crawling inside. The longer-tongued bees are adept at getting the nectar.
4Can I grow foxgloves from seed indoors?
Yes, it’s possible. They like temperatures in the 60-65°F range (15-18°C).
For my garden, I have the best luck with self-seeding outdoors. I leave the foxgloves alone, let them bloom and go to seed, and reseed naturally. This generates far more new plants than I can grow successfully from seed indoors.
Happy gardening! And be sure to sign up for the free newsletter.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛