≡ Menu

Foxglove Wish List 2: Strange Foxgloves


The list in the last post was made of Digitalis purpurea variants (ones I hadn’t already posted about).

This post is a list for those who like to fantasize about the strange and unusual: mostly perennial, mostly species foxgloves. Any foxgloves which look as if they have flowers like D. laevigata automatically go off my wish list, but that doesn’t mean they won’t look just fine on yours.

Digitalis cariensis subsp. trojana, offered by Sequim Rare Plants, is creamy, with amber gold throats and a long, bright white tongue. A great description which makes me want it, even without a photo, especially since it’s a perennial. SRP says this foxglove does better when it gets afternoon shade and regular watering. It’s shorter than some, usually about 30” (about 3/4 of a meter) tall. and hardy to zone 6, or 5 with protection.

Digitalis ferruginea – A late-blooming perennial from Southern Europe, whose blooms are described as creamy yellow flecked with rusty brown. They are also described as rusty red, more in keeping with the common name of this plant, rusty foxglove. It can run tall – between 3 to 6 feet (about 1 to 2 meters) is the rather vague designation – and it’s another one of those biennial-or-perennial types. (Usually, this means one or two seasons of bloom.) A cultivar, ‘Gigantea Gelber Harold’ is purported to have large pure yellow flowers from June to August, coming in at 5 feet.  The pictures show flowers that look similar to D. laevigata.

Digitalis ‘Goldcrest’, which I found at Jackson and Perkins, was at first a mystery: it might be a purpurea variation, I thought (the flowers look the right shape), or it might be some variant of Digitalis obscura: annoyingly, J&P declines to give botanical names, nor do they bother to tell you whether it’s a biennial or perennial, so there’s no way of knowing. ‘Goldcrest’ is a pretty looking flower, “flushed with gold, apricot, and rose, with dark brown freckles” as the copy says; a kind of deeper, darker ‘Sutton’s Apricot’. Fortunately, the 2009 Plant Delights catalogue arrived to solve the mystery. ‘Goldcrest’ is another name for ‘Waldigone’, a cross of Digitalis grandiflora and Digitalis obscura, so it is perennial, “a nice clump-former, adorned with small glossy evergreen foliage, topped throughout the summer with 18” (45 cm) branched spikes of large apricot flowers, each higlighted by interior brown specks.” The Plant Delights photo shows a much less vividly-colored flower than the J&P photo. This could  be from soil and climate differences, cultivar differences, or vividness by computer manipulation.

Digitalis grandiflora is one of  strawberry foxglove’s parents, and that is where I have described what I know of it.

Digitalis lanata (means “woolly”) is also called ‘Grecian foxglove’, even though it’s not the same as the D. laevigata ‘Grecian foxglove’ I discussed earlier. (Yet another reason for Latin names.) It is a hardy biennial or perennial with creamy yellow flowers – always a great color in a flower, if you ask me.  As perennial foxgloves seem to do, it flowers in late rather than early summer. Digitalis lanata hails from Greece and the Danube, quite a spread of territory. Perhaps it traveled in the hands of the flower-loving Ottoman Turks. I have tried getting this foxglove from seed numerous times, and never managed it. I’ve never seen a plant of it, so I haven’t had the opportunity see it that way, either. I would love to bring it to flower at least once, just to see it.  Seed germinates in about 26 days (a lunar cycle) at 70 degrees F. Available at JL Hudson.

Digitalis lutea, or Straw Foxglove, is native to North Africa and Europe. Its species name, “lutea” means “yellow”, and it’s possible that “straw” refers to the type of yellow. A picture in Antique Flowers shows it with tiny narrow blooms of buff yellow. This is yet another of the ones that I have seeded year after year, with no result.  But I would like to grow it. Yellow to white inch-long flowers, dark green foliage, and perennial habit sound good to me. JL Hudson quotes Jelitto and Schacht in his catalogue, as commending, “ A noteworthy, graceful, long-lived, lime-loving species.” So maybe liquid calcium will encourage it to sprout. We can but hope.

Digitalis obscura, a Spanish perennial, offers an entirely different type of foxglove experience. Its ombre-dyed orange bells remind me more of aloe flowers than D. purpurea, at least judging by the picture in the High Country Gardens catalogue. Perhaps the camera lies: HCG calls the flowers yellow-and-brown.  (HCG offers plants only. If you prefer growing from seed, you can get them from JL Hudson, who says the seeds germinate in 1 to 2 weeks. In my experience, that’s quick for a foxglove.) The flowers of D. obscura don’t have the closed-in look of D. laevigata & co., but they do look smaller and narrower than D. purpurea flowers, and they hang their heads more heavily. The leaves are reputed to be evergreen and lilylike, and the plant can go woody, like a lavender or sage.  D. obscura does well in full or partial sun, and grows to about 18” (about half a meter) tall by 12” (about 30 cm) wide, the kind of miniaturization you often see in plants from the mountains. Its mountain home also means, I’m guessing, that it likes a well-drained, mineral-rich soil. It’s certainly a low-water plant, though I would also make that case for Digitalis purpurea.

Digitalis parviflora ‘Milk Chocolate’ – Frances of Fairegarden  brought my attention to this foxglove. Since what I can see of the photo shows the same closed-bell flower as D. laevigata, I probably won’t be fighting to get this one into my garden – though I am intrigued by brown flowers at the moment.  And the shape of the spikes is cool. I  might succumb.

Digitalis thapsi ‘Spanish Peaks’ –  Goodwin Creek Gardens says that this perennial foxglove is small, growing about 1’ x 1’ (about 30 cm each way).  They describe the spikes as reddish purple, attractive to hummingbirds. The leaves are fuzzy, and it grows in partial hade to full sun, z. 4-10. Needs well-drained soil. Select Seeds confirms that this cultivar is from Spain. That sounds obvious, but cultivar names can be tricky, since they’re often used to refer to the namer’s associations with the plant, rather than the plant’s association with its world. GCG describes ‘Spanish Peaks’ as two to four feet tall, and mentions that the flowers are spotted with deep maroon.

Digitalis viridiflora, from the Balkans, has greenish-yellow inch-long flowers, as the name suggests, A hardy perennial, Digitalis viridiflora flowers from June to August, and grows 2 to 4 feet tall. It likes moist soil, and fall sowing. I have a weakness for greenish-yellow flowers, and just think how cool it would look next to a wild Digitalis purpurea, if they flower at the same time. D. viridiflora is perennial, too. I’ll be trying this one soon. It’s available through JL Hudson.

As exhausted as you may be by the subject of foxgloves, I’m sure I haven’t covered them all. For an extensive list of foxgloves in cultivation, try: Hardy Plants . (But be forewarned; they haven’t got photographs. Strictly botanical information only.) If you have any favorite foxgloves – or just know of other varieties that deserve their turn – I hope you’ll leave a comment.

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • kerri February 8, 2009, 2:41 pm

    You’ve certainly listed a lot of unusual foxgloves. I only have a couple of varieties, but love them for all their great characteristics. I’ll check a few of these out. Thanks for the info.

  • Nancy Bond February 8, 2009, 3:41 pm

    Who knew there were so many delightful foxgloves? As always, you’ve certainly done your homework. :)

  • Karen - An Artists Garden February 8, 2009, 5:41 pm

    I have also tried to grow Digitalis lanata and Digitalis lutea from seed – without sucess – but seeing your note about the germination at 70 degrees for D. lanata – perhaps I will give it another go at a higher temperature!

  • Jan(ThanksFor2Day) February 9, 2009, 8:37 am

    This list is more than I can handle:) But certainly wonderful info. to keep on hand. I’m still trying to figure out how to expand my garden areas and get my husband to dig out the grass for me;)

    Thank you so much for your kind & helpful comments on my blog–I recently discovered that Blogger has added a way to download our blogs to our harddrive, and they provide an easy way to do it. So that helps me a lot:) I’m not sure that the photos are included, however–but everything else, including the template would be there, at least.

    The blogs that I accidentally deleted were impossible to get back, and I checked sources everywhere to give me help & advice. I am bound & determined NOT to let that happen again!!!

  • Pomona Belvedere February 9, 2009, 1:42 pm

    I admit this series on foxgloves got away with me, but once I started I found it hard to stop. At least you know where to come for your foxglove-research needs! And I love them so much, I couldn’t leave any out.

    I’m going to try germinating D. lanata at a higher temperature, too, and see if I can finally get it.

  • Frances February 13, 2009, 3:19 am

    Hi Pomona, I love that you got carried away with the foxgloves! They are so intriguing and those tall spikes really add drama to any garden style. Thanks for the link love and I will post a photo of Milk Chocolate if it ever blooms. It might take another year, but the seedlings look healthy under the lights. I will look for seeds of some of those you mentioned, and am aggravated by the lack of latin names in some catalogs. I did notice my favorite US gardening magazine, Fine Gardening this month did not list the latin names in some of their articles, a first. Talk about dumbing down!!!

  • lostlandscape(James) March 3, 2009, 8:59 pm

    Thanks for your great post. Although I’ve been trying to get more up to speed on my California natives, I’ve added a couple of these foxgloves to the mix this year, considering their lower water needs to be at least California-compatible. I sowed some D. parviflora a month ago, though there’s still no germination, but I haven’t given up hope. At the same time I sowed ferruginea, and now I’m feeling like Naydia Suleman and her octuplets with all thee little seedlings everywhere. Both these species have striking spires even after the flowers have died back.

  • Pomona Belvedere March 4, 2009, 2:42 pm

    Maybe you can trade your sorcerer’s-apprentice lot of ferruginea plants with gardening friends, or take them to the local farmer’s market if you have one. Hopefully you will not need to go on public assistance to support them!

    It is interesting to hear you mention the variation in your foxglove germination; I experience big differences in germination rate depending on the type, but I always thought this was just due to my laissez-faire methods.

    My experience is that the non-purpurea foxgloves really are very water-saving (I plant them in part-shade, which probably helps), as you might expect from Mediterranean-origin plants. I look forward to seeing photos of D. parviflora and D. ferruginea on your blog.

Leave a Comment