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What Is a Foxglove Plant?

By Tarah Damask ; Updated September 21, 2017
Foxgloves display flowers in a variety of colors like pink and white.
foxglove image by david purday from Fotolia.com

Bringing great visual interest into your home landscape, foxgloves are biennial or perennial flowers with very distinguishable, favored features. While this plant provides an abundance of design interest due to its shape and color, home gardeners should take special care when selecting this species as it is also known for its toxicity.


Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is attached to a myth from which its name is derived. From Old English, the name implies that foxes that sneaked into the poultry corrals of farms would glove their paws in these flowers that grew near fox dens. The idea is that the tubular flowers would allow the foxes to creep silently through the night, according to the University of Arkansas. In 1775, physician William Withering discovered that as an herbal tea, foxglove aided patients with heart illnesses. In modern medicine, digitalin is a drug derived from foxglove plant still in use for heart problems.


Foxgloves begin as a large collection of green leaves in a rosette form. Once the plant reaches approximately one year of age, it produces spring flowers in purple, pink, lavender, white or yellow in a 2-inch long shape that resembles the finger of a glove, as its name suggests. The inside of the flowers display spots with the entire plant growing in an upright habit. Foxglove plants reach a height of 5 feet with a width of 1 foot. These flowers attract wildlife like butterflies into the home garden.


Practice extreme caution when gardening with foxglove, particularly if you have pets or children, as this plant is considered highly poisonous. All parts of this plant including flowers, seeds and leaves are toxic when ingested. Additionally, excessive consumption of the medicine digitalis results in similar toxicity. When ingested, symptoms include, but are not limited to, vomiting, nausea, stomach ache, diarrhea, headache and convulsions. The reaction to foxglove can result in death, according to the North Carolina State University. Contact 911 or a poison control center immediately if ingestion occurs.


If you choose to garden with foxglove, maintain consistent care for optimal growth and flowering. Grow foxglove in areas of the garden that provide partial shade. Cultivate this plant in moist, acid soil high in organic content. Irrigate during the warmer months to keep soil moist, but avoid wet conditions. For best growth, garden with foxglove in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 9. Complete planting with immature foxglove by September for successful growth.


About the Author


Tarah Damask's writing career began in 2003 and includes experience as a fashion writer/editor for Neiman Marcus, short fiction publications in "North Texas Review," a self-published novel, band biographies, charter school curriculum and articles for various websites. Damask holds a Master of Arts in English and creative writing from the University of North Texas.