Rusty Foxglove

Rusty Foxglove


"When landlords turn the drunken bee
Out of the foxglove's door,
When butterflies renounce their drams,
I shall but drink the more."

-Emily Dickinson
(1830-1886)

   

Rusty Foxglove This dwarf foxglove was obtained as a seedling labeled Digitalis ferruginea var gigantea, sometimes offered as though 'Gigantea' were a cultivar name.

I about half doubt it is really the larger variant, as its flower stalk only grew to a slender two foot height, & 'Gigantea' is supposed to grow much larger than the species, four foot to six feet. Plus 'Gigantea' usually blooms yellow with rust-red or brownish flecks, & yellow in the heart, while the species is white with rust-red flecks.

So I suspect we got the species & not the variant with yellower fatter thimbles. But if it really is 'Gigantea' as represented, then ours may have remained stunted & unimpressive because it was planted in a slightly shady location where nearby shrubs quickly dried out the soil after watering, & the Rusty Foxglove prefers more even moisture.

Rusty FoxgloveThis native of Southeast Europe & West Asia is in bud by July & in full flower July & August.

It likes bright shade or afternoon sun, with increasing sun the further north it is grown. It can prove to be drought tolerant if not in too bright of sun, though moist well drained soil would be more to its liking.

As a biennial, our one little plant did not bloom the year the seedling was planted, but was a tidy clump of spear-shaped leaves. The second year it produced a single flower stalk from the center of the basal leaves.

By September the flowers go to seed then the clump dies, but if the stalk is cut off as soon as it fades & before it uses up its energy producing seeds, it is apt to perennialize for another year, & continue to live until it is permitted to go to seed.

We have just this one specimen & despite its status as a bienniel, our clump has flowered six years running, as we never permit it to go to seed, & it looks like it'll keep going indefinitely. It's not all that showy a spike of bells really, so we've never planted a second one, but it's fun to see this one specimen live on & on beyond its expected lifespan. It has gotten a bit bigger each year, though never the size 'Gigantea' is supposed to reach.

Like the much larger, widely naturalized biennial purple foxglove, & the penstemon-like perennial dusky foxglove, every part of the plant is poisonous, & a source of the heart medication digitalis.

   



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