Spire like flowers are valued by gardeners for the clarity, punctuation and dramatic contrast that they add to a planting schemes.
Digitalis, or Foxgloves as they are commonly known, are the ultimate spire; hardy, easy to grow and self seeding around where they are happy.
Digitalis is a genus of around 20 species of biennials and perennials, typified by evergreen basal rosettes of foliage and upright flowering stems in varying heights packed with tubular, bell shaped flowers. They range in distribution across Europe, including the UK, to Central Asia and are usually to be found growing in meadows and light woodland.
The only species native to the UK is Digitalis purpurea (pictured above), which is a biennial. In the first year from seed large basal rosettes of downy, evergreen leaves are produced followed by a flowering spikes up to 1.5 metres tall in late spring/early summer of the following year.
The wild form occurs in shades of mauvy purple with dark purple freckles on the inner throat of the bell, but there is an ever expanding range of Digitalis purpurea hybrids in shades of lavender, rose pink, cream, white and peach.
Aside from the various forms of D. purpurea that we grow at Daisy Roots, we have a number of interesting and garden worthy Digitalis species, most of which are perennial;
Digitalis grandiflora (formerly D. ambigua) is native to southern Europe and Asia where it is found growing on open, scrubby mountain slopes or where ground has been disturbed by tree felling.
Low rosettes of deep green, slightly leathery foliage send up stems to 100cm with pale yellow tubular flowers in June - July. A short lived perennial that self seeds and is easily edited out where not wanted and moved elsewhere
Digitalis ferruguinea makes an elegant edition to any border; low rosettes of leathery, lance shaped leaves send up tall, slender spires of soft caramel tinted bells, about 2.5cm long, with intricate darker veining on the inners.
Stems and seed pods turn dark brown if left to stand through winter and make a nice contrast to pale dried winter grasses.
From Hungary, Romania, Turkey and the Caucasus, this architectural plant enjoys life in the sun on reasonably well drained soil
Digitalis x mertonensis is a hybrid between D. purprea and D. grandiflora with compact spikes to 90cm above rosettes of wide, downy evergreen foliage. Reasonably perennial but like all of it's relatives will invariably self seed if allowed to do so.
Flowers are 5-6cm long in a soft, mottled raspberry pink.
Grow in sun or dappled shade on any reasonable soil
Digitalis parviflora is endemic to northern and central spain, growing on well drained, open, sunny slopes at altitudes of 500-2000 ft.
Curiously coloured rusty brown flowers crowd flower spikes to around 60cm tall above low rosettes of dark green, lance shaped foliage.
Bumble bees are the main pollinators of the Foxglove family and can be seen and heard working their way tirelessly from flower to flower on all varieties.
All parts of Digitalis are toxic and should not be ingested, although this does makes them ideal plants for those gardeners that have problems with deer or rabbits, who won't touch them.
The dried leaves are used to make Digoxin, a drug used widely today to slow and strengthen heart contractions and that was first recorded and prescribed as long ago as 1785 by physician and botanist William Withering, originally as a treatment for oedema.
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