≡ Menu

Digitalis laevigata: A Foxglove in Bear’s Clothing*



I liked the idea of a perennial foxglove: I often forget to keep planting the biennial ones, so either I have to buy sometimes-anonymous plants at the drugstore, or go without. (I’m not sure why drugstores have become plant emporiums, or when it happened, but two chain drugstores in my area are some of the cheapest and easiest sources for common bedding plants. Maybe it’s a roundabout way of having herbalism come back: many of our common ornamental plants are actually medicinal.) Like other digitalis, D. laevigata also has cardiac stimulant and tonic qualities.
I had great hopes of Digitalis laevigata, also known as Grecian foxglove (although its origins are probably in SE Europe, there is a subspecies gracae with smaller flowers packed together) and smooth foxglove, a translation of its Latin species name. “Smooth” refers to the leaves, which have more in common with a large plantain than with Digitalis purpurea.  I rather liked the way the old leaves turned into a sort of textured mosaic of colors and patterns.


But, honestly, I planted D. laevigata for its perennial qualities, and to have a different flower color in a foxglove. I thought a yellow foxglove would be nice. Since I had no pictures available at the time I planted it (it’s not a comon foxglove, and I got the seeds from JL Hudson’s wonderful but photoless catalogue), I was free to fantasize to my heart’s content, and envisioned a sort of blurry D. purpurea, with small creamy yellow flowers.

As you can see from the photo at the top of this page,  D. laevigata flowers look a lot more like acanthus than foxglove. They also, as it turns out, look a lot like Digitalis ferruginea flowers. For a while I was worried I might have mixed my foxglove up with D. ferruginea, but a look at a picture of D. ferruginea relieved me of that worry; its flowers don’t have the characteristic white lip of D. laevigata. Given that I’m not overly thrilled with D. laevigata, that pretty much puts Digitalis ferruginea off my wish list, at least until I get my own personal botanic garden.

Digitalis laevigata is not a bad plant. And it’s certainly a plant that can take hard use: I grow it in a container with several other plants that crowd over it; and I’ve grown it in spots from quite shady to fairly sunny. But I have to say that this is a digitalis that didn’t really win my heart. It was interesting to see it grow, and I’ve kept it because it was so obliging, and because it’s hard for me to tear a plant out, especially one I have nurtured from a seed..

But I have no desire to propagate it. Maybe the best I can do for it is show its pictures here, in hopes that its particular temperament will appeal to others, if not to me: an indirect kind of propagation.

For more on Digitalis laevigata:

http://www.dianeseeds.com/digitalis-laevigata.html – has seeds and a more enticing-looking photo-taken from above the top of the plant, it looks more graceful

Botanical, medical, and horticultural rundown on this plant.

Next post: White foxgloves. These I like.

*Points to those who get the very obscure joke in this title.

{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Nancy Bond January 10, 2009, 10:50 am

    Foxglove is a unique, beautiful plant, and I don’t believe I’ve seen a yellow one before.

  • Daffodil Planter January 10, 2009, 11:16 am


    Thank you for the education on this interesting plant. I laud you for the experiment, and for your tender heart in keeping it around. I have Acanthus mollis and find it much more attractive (and with that in my garden, I did get your clever headline). I will pass on this particular foxglove and look forward to the white series.

  • Helen/patientgardener January 10, 2009, 12:04 pm

    Hi – I have a Digitialis lutea which is pale yellow but it isnt winning me over either. I think we are so used to the biennial ones that subconsciously this is really what we want.

  • catmint January 11, 2009, 4:52 am

    Hi Pomona, thank you for the obscure joke, I normally am hopeless at cryptic crosswords so am quite pleased with myself for figuring this one out. Seems foxgloves could also associate well with stachys lanata – lambs ears?

  • Sylvia (England) January 12, 2009, 3:20 am

    Pomona, I know what you mean about perennial foxgloves. I also grew one from seed, not sure which one without looking it up. I planted them in an out of the way space garden wise, the only place I could find at the time, but I do pass this as I drive to work. If it was more interesting I think I would notice it more but I had almost forgotten it until you reminded me. I am not even sure if it flowered last year, I think it is time I reviewed it place in the garden!

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  • Pomona Belvedere January 12, 2009, 2:10 pm

    It’s nice to find that I’m not the only one who has ambiguous feelings about some of my plants. I put in some D. lutea seeds this fall; that’s an intersting point about how our expectations of foxgloves are formed around D. purpurea, so maybe nothing else will do. Meanwhile, I’m going to try some more odd ones – though that may silt up my garden a bit with more plants I’m less than enthusiastic about. I’m just too curious to quit. (And I’m glad at least some of you found my joke bearable…)

  • healthy choice June 29, 2014, 12:16 am

    Thank you a bunch for sharing this with all of us
    you actually realize what you are talking about!

    Bookmarked. Kindly additionally talk over with my site
    =). We could have a hyperlink exchange arrangement
    between us

Leave a Comment