Digitalis purpurea

Plantain Family [Plantaginaceae]  
Formerly in: Figwort & Foxglove Family [Scrophulariaceae]

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1st July 2005, Slopes of Birks Fell, Eskdale Green, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
A grove of Foxglove amidst Bracken, a frequent occurrence on the lower slopes of acid moorland mountains. Foxglove appears to be the only plant that can happily co-exist amidst Bracken perhaps growing faster initially before the bracken hogs all the light.

27th June 2005, Walsden, Rochdale Canal, Lancashire. Photo: © RWD

7th June 2005, Sefton Coastal Path, Hightown. Photo: © RWD
Note there is only one flowering stem.

7th June 2005, Sefton Coastal Path, Hightown. Photo: © RWD
The flowers have spots inside them.

16th July 2005, Turton & Entwistle Reservoir, Strawbury Duck. Photo: © RWD
But if the young stalk is damaged, then many flowering stems can sprout.

31st July 2015, road into Hathersage from Stanage Edge, Dk Pk Dist. Photo: © RWD
A very much taller damaged specimen with abnormal branches lower down. Estimated height of this is 9 to 10 feet!


22nd July 2008, Healey Dam, Lumbutts, Todmorden. Photo: © RWD
Foxglove can be either purple or white. The flowers are always on one side of the stem (if they surround the stem then that will be a garden variety, of which there are many).

22nd July 2008, Healey Dam, Lumbutts, Todmorden. Photo: © RWD

Photo: © RWD
Flowers near the top open last. When shut they resemble mitts, hence Foxglove.


20th June 2017, Taxal, Peak District. Photo: © RWD
If there are purple Foxgloves and much less frequent white ones, then you might expect that there were also intermediate-coloured ones: pink!

20th June 2017, Taxal, Peak District. Photo: © RWD

20th June 2017, Taxal, Peak District. Photo: © RWD

20th June 2013, Milnrow, Gtr M/cr. Photo: © RWD
A pink form is cream-coloured further up.

20th June 2013, Milnrow, Gtr M/cr. Photo: © RWD
The sexual organs are well hidden [pink form]..

20th June 2013, Milnrow, Gtr M/cr. Photo: © RWD
Magenta spots have a white halo around them where no colour can form (i.e. white is allowed). Beyond that a pink wash is allowed an existence. Note the long hairs.

12th July 2013, Pooley Bridge, Lake District. Photo: © RWD
On its way to becoming fruit: the petals and anthers have been shed leaving just the long style extending well beyond the sepals. The fruit will be growing larger hidden (but not hidden for very long) by the sepals.

5th Aug 2011, Little Langdale, Cumbria Photo: © RWD
The whole length turned to fruit apart from the last to flower at the summit.

5th Aug 2011, Little Langdale, Cumbria Photo: © RWD
The four sepals have turned a rich reddish-purple (possibly as a result of strong sunshine) contrasting with the unripe green fruits.

22nd July 2008, Healey Dam, Lumbutts, Todmorden. Photo: © RWD
The fruits still have the style atop. A different year and the sepals are green rather than red.

5th Aug 2011, Little Langdale, Cumbria Photo: © RWD
The fruits still have the long stamen attached.

5th Aug 2011, Little Langdale, Cumbria Photo: © RWD
Eventually the fruits ripen chestnut brown and split into four.

28th Sept 2008, Seathwaite Tarn, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
The leaves form a basal rosette in the first year without flowering.


20th June 2017, a garden, Langley, nr. Sutton, Macclesfield. Photo: © RWD
This is a garden variety; easily identified by the fact that the flowers grow all around the stem, and the fact that it was found in a garden ...
These are the fruits after flowering.


 Mutations Menu

16th July 2016, Sedburgh, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Whereas the inflorescence of normal Foxglove plants tapers to the top, with flowers all on one side, the specimen on the right has decided that flowers should proliferate and fill space all around the circumference. It is quite possible that garden varieties were cultivated from Foxgloves which exhibited the mutation called proliferation.

16th July 2016, Sedburgh, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
The proliferation could have been initiated by either damage or some disease. This is the first example your Author has seen of an aberrant Foxglove plant; unfortunately he couldn't safely get nearer, it was atop a steep roadside verge.


 Mutations Menu

19th May 2019, a garden, East Sussex. Photo: © Susan Archer
Peloria occurs in plants with flowers which normally possess bilateral symmetry. Only the topmost flower is peloric (grows with actinomorphic symmetry); all the lower flowers are normal and exhibit bilateral symmetry. Normally Foxglove flowers open in progression from the bottom of the stem upwards, the topmost being the last to open, but the topmost peloric flower in a peloric Foxglove is the first to open; a reversal of fortunes.

19th May 2019, a garden, East Sussex. Photo: © Susan Archer

19th May 2019, a garden, East Sussex. Photo: © Susan Archer

19th May 2019, a garden, East Sussex. Photo: © Susan Archer
The second peloric foxglove. This specimen has petals (many more that the normal for Foxglove) which are all directed forwards (it is perhaps only half-way through opening fully). All the lower flowers on the stem are completely normal, with bilateral symmetry (when they themselves open fully).

19th May 2019, a garden, East Sussex. Photo: © Susan Archer
The third peloric specimen. The multiple petals are arranged in an open disc with the long but sterile multitudinous anthers (many more than normal) also radiating outwards. In the centre is perhaps a peloric ovary with proliferous and sterile stigmas(?)

19th May 2019, a garden, East Sussex. Photo: © Susan Archer
Birdseye view of the doubled peloric flower. All three specimens exhibit this proliferous central object. Some other photos of proliferous foxgloves found on the internet have just one central non-proliferous and normal-looking gourd-shaped ovary (albeit - they are still probably sterile).

Not to be semantically confused with : Fox-and-Cubs [a flower belonging to a differing Family]

Hybridizes with : Straw Foxglove (Digitalis lutea) to produce Digitalis × fucata.

Due to a recent taxonomical reassessment, Foxglove has now been placed in the Plantain Family (Plantaginaceae) instead of the 'Figwort and Foxglove' Family (Scrophulariaceae) it used to belong to. This seems strange, as its appearance is nothing like any other member of the Plantain Family. [Your author can imagine that they will be changing their minds again later over this plant].

From a distance, a drift of Foxglove could be mistaken for one of Purple Loosestrife or Rosebay Willowherb

Uniquely identifiable characteristics.

Foxglove is biennial: in the first year just a large basal rosette of crinkled leaves form on the ground; in the second year a single flowering stalk rises bearing a spike of usually purple coloured tubular flowers. It then dies, but sheds seeds which repeat the process.

Foxglove was instrumental to the creation of modern day pharmacology. Because of the not infrequent deaths resulting from its use as a herbal treatment for dropsy (an aberrant accumulation of fluids in the tissues of the body) William Withering, a biologist and botanist, investigated the medical properties of dried Foxglove leaves. He found that the constituents of Foxglove, whatever they were, exerted their effects on the heart, both slowing the heart rate and strengthening the beat (a property that would be more gainfully employed in the treatment of heart failure), and that it was this action that was helping with the condition called dropsy. The heart beat, in being stronger, was stimulating the kidneys to clear the body and lungs of excess fluids. But the problem was that there was a very narrow window between the amount of leaves necessary to cure the patient and that which would kill him! Too much would stop the heart altogether. This is nowadays called a narrow therapeutic window, and it is preferable that drugs have as wide a therapeutic window as is possible. Carefully measured amounts were found to be necessary to effect a cure. It was this process whereby William led the way forward; from herbal medicine to pharmacology. Eventually the active principles in the leaves responsible for their effects on the heart were identified, isolated and purified to produce the modern drugs that we use today. William Withering led the way in all this.

Foxglove is the County Flower of four counties in the UK: Argyll, Birmingham, Leicestershire and Monmouthshire.

Apparently, there are also many cultivated garden varieties of Foxgloves, many with the flowers all around the stem instead of all on one side. Perhaps these have been bred to also be less toxic(?).

A Protandrous flower is one in which the stamens shed pollen before the stigma is receptive. Examples being the flowers of Jacobs Ladder and Foxglove. A protandrous flower is first functionally male and afterwards functionally female, but not both at the same time. This is only one of the ways in which some plants try to protect themselves from self-fertilisation.

But in the case of Foxglove, where the flowers open from the bottom upwards in the long spike and there is a time when the fully opened females at the bottom are concurrent with the freshly-opening males nearer the top. Pollinators often start from the bottom with the female flowers then work their way up to the males nearer the top, thus they have not pollinated any flowers on the plant. But when they move on to the next Foxglove plant they pollinate the female flowers at the bottom with pollen from a differing Foxglove, thus helping cross-pollination and hindering self-pollination.

Heath Frittilary (Exmoor)

The leaves and flowers contain the spiro-steroid, Digoxigenin, used in biotechnology and immunohistological diagnosis rather than as a drug. Digoxigenin resembles Convallotoxin, the digitalin-like poison found in Lily-of-the-Valley.


Two cardiac glycoside heart drugs can be obtained from Foxglove plants: Digitoxin and Digoxin. These are not alkaloids, for they contain no nitrogen atoms. Both Digitoxin and Digoxin are based on the steroidal compound Digoxigenin, the molecule shown above, with the addition of glycosides. Both affect the rhythm and strength of the heart beat and are used as treatments for arrhythmias and heart failure. Although the effects of Digoxin are longer lasting than those of Digitoxin, the former is now rarely used as treatment.

Because Foxglove contains these toxic drugs, it is dangerous to ingest any part of the plant. Symptoms of poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, visual disturbances, confusion, and heart arrhythmias. For serious cases of poisoning an antidote is available.

Several other similar cardiac glycosides are found in Foxglove, Gitalin, F-Gitonin, Digitonin as well as the poisonous iridoid glucosides Lanatosides A-C.

  Digitalis purpurea  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Plantaginaceae  

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Digitalis purpurea

Plantain Family [Plantaginaceae]  
Formerly in: Figwort & Foxglove Family [Scrophulariaceae]

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