Foxgloves (digitalis purpurea) fill me with nostalgia. My mother grew them in her rural Tasmanian garden. ‘Don’t touch them’, she would tell us, ‘they’re poisonous. ‘ Naturally my sister Robbie and I defied her by sticking our fingers into the little ‘gloves’ with a mixture of fear and excitement. It was a bit like playing botanical Russian roulette. Oh well, at least we didn’t eat them!
It turns out that all parts of the plant are toxic due to their adverse effect on the heart. Conversely, digitalis in very small doses is used in medicine as the drug Digoxin, to correct an irregular heart rhythm.
To my disappointment, the common name is more likely to have derived from ‘folk’, a whimsical reference to fairy folk wearing the bell shaped flowers as thimbles and gloves, but an association with the fox is so apt. Why would foxes wear gloves you ask? So they don’t leave paw prints when raiding hen houses of course!
FOR WHOM THE BELLS TOLL
The poisonous properties of the foxglove mean it has often been used in murder mysteries, most notably in the Agatha Christie novels Postern of Fate and Herb of Death. Clue….its young leaves resemble those of sage.
Foxgloves like a cool climate, so I was surprised (and delighted) to see them in Sydney’s Martin Place in early spring this year. What a show!
Where I live in the Blue Mountains they are still in flower quite close to Christmas. I have used them with spinebill fuchsia and crimson grevillea to make festive banners. Mine are all white. They were the normal purple when I first bought them, but for some reason they have changed! I don’t really mind….bit odd though. Must be something to do with my soil I guess.
I love the way they self seed and pop up in odd places. The one below is growing from a crack in a stone wall and has taken on a slightly lemon tint.
As with most plants, there are many delightful colours available. I think I might try a few different ones next year…..and enjoy them before they fade to white again!
They are not often seen in artworks, but I really love the image below.
For work by this artist, CLICK HERE
Digitalis is not the only deadly plant used in medicine. Fore example, there is BELLADONNA