FOXGLOVE (Digitalis purpurea)

Europe, Asia, Northeast Africa

Foxglove summer solsticefoxglove-fingerhut-tall


Digitalis purpurea is a tall, elegant wildflower of woodlands, hedgerows and cleared land.

The Foxglove does well in part sun or shade. This plant is a biennial – in its first year it puts out a rosette of leaves close to the ground.  The following year a flower spike arises which may reach 5 feet in height.

Buds on the spike open into thimble-shaped bells with freckled interiors. The freckles are ‘honey guides’ which act as signs for bees landing on the lower lip, pointing the way to the nectar at the back of the thimble.

Because it seeds prolifically – one plant is capable of producing over a million seeds – this plant can make many more Foxgloves.


Doctor Foxglove
“They will improve the storage qualities of such things as potatoes, tomatoes and apples grown near them.”  
THE COMPLETE OLD WIVES’ LORE FOR GARDENERS, Maureen and Bridget Boland, The Bodley Head, London 1977


Identifying Weeds:’Teasel, Dipsacus Fullonum                                                                                       In ancient Ireland, teasel was used as a first layer for thatched roofs. The spines on the stems helped hold the other materials in place. They also made some very ferocious looking brooms for sweeping the bad spirits from the home and teasel hung above the doorway prevented witches from entering. Apparently the ferocious spines were enough to deter the bad spirits that might enter the home.

Teasel was the companion plant to the Nordic and Germanic domestic goddess Hulda/Holda. She was in charge of the household and was especially important to spinning and textiles

Melody Rose, Dave’s Garden, June 18, 1996.



This most beautiful of wildflowers is quite toxic, to humans and animals, from cats and dogs to all manner of poultry. Something to keep in mind when planting where children can reach the thimbles. For details on the poisonous nature of this plant, go to WIKIPEDIA

The Foxglove was found by William Withering to contain digitalis, a substance useful in the treatment of heart conditions.  An Account of the Foxglove, Dr Wm Withering, 1785.



When the Foxglove nods its head it was believed, in Wales and Southern England, that this was to acknowledge that a fairy was passing by. In Ireland, however, it was thought that the Foxglove would nod its head if one of ‘the gentry’ was passing by.

A Foxglove grown in the garden was believed to keep evil at bay, but bringing the blooms inside was thought unlucky as it might bring the fairies inside as well.

A Norse tradition told of spirits giving Foxglove blooms to foxes; worn on their paws, they were to muffle any sound they might make when entering a henhouse…

WFoxglove sharpen

Foxglove with buds


Foxglove Fingerhut w Bumblebee

Bees’ Favourite.

Bumblebees are the chief pollinators of the Foxglove. The joy of having this wildflower in your garden is seeing the bumblebees buzzing slowly in and out of the thimbles.

One year we had a hybrid Digitalis; it produced beautiful blooms for months, but not a single bee came to visit its fairy thimbles. In a small garden, a Foxglove that is not bee-friendly is a waste of garden space. Digitalis x mertonensis, with the pinky purple blooms shown in these photos, has done well for us.

Dave Goulson‘s lab at Sussex University has a selection of flowers (including the Foxglove) rated best for bees :

Foxgloves in rock garden, Gillespie Park

Foxgloves in rock garden, Gillespie Park


Foxgloves & Poppies at Peckham Wildlife Centre

The flowers of the Foxglove are eaten by the larva of the Foxglove Pug Moth, while its leaves are consumed by the larva of the Lesser Yellow Underwing; it is a secondary foodplant for the Heath Fritillary.

The ‘self-seeding’ that some gardeners take for granted never happens here, & we have no Foxglove dynasties. All seeds must have been eaten. North London wildlife must have found our Foxglove seeds tasty treats.


Other names: Bee Hives, Dead Man’s Bells, Dead Man’s Thimbles, Duck’s Mouths, Fairy Bells, Fairy Fingers, Fairy Gloves, Fairies’ Petticoats, Ffion (Welsh), Fingerhut (German), Flap Dick, Flap Dock, Flappy Dock, Flock, Goose Flops, Granny’s Bonnets, Granny’s Gloves, Hedge Poppy, Hill Poppy, Lady’s Slipper, Lady’sThimble, Lus Mor (Gaelic – ‘The Great Herb’), Maneg Ellyllyn (Welsh – ‘The Good People’s Glove’), Purple Foxglove, Revbielde (Norwegian), Scabbit dock, Tod-tails.

Foxglove June 2016 'Fingerhut'


“If you want a foxglove that will last more than two years, then Digitalis x mertonensis may fit the bill…  ‘the progeny of a mixed marriage between Digitalis purpurea and Digitalis grandiflora – it was raised in 1926 at the John Innes Horticultural Institution in Surrey.

The flowers are the colour of strawberry sorbet made from fresh berries and each bell is slightly squashed and broadened, an inheritance from Digitalis grandiflora. The basal leaves are large with a slight sheen. And it breeds true from seed.”

Carol Klein in The Telegraph


Foxgloves 2016 

This season, when our Foxglove had gone over, we planted a Chinese Foxglove from Camden Garden Centre next to the spot it had occupied. Rehmannia ‘Magic Dragon’ was said to be attractive to bees, & its MAGENTA PINK flowers do look like palatial versions of our native Foxglove. Bees who had visited the thimbles of the native Foxglove did find those of the Magic Dragon’s equally attractive, & the new plant bloomed on until October.









We found a number of sites on the internet with advice on Rehmannia.

Rehmannia Walberton’s Magic Dragon:

2020 Lockdown Foxgloves

After lockdown eased, these foxgloves were bought from the fruiterer nearest us on Blackstock Road. They were planted in a spot at the back of the garden near the birdfeeders.

Bumblebees were happy to visit the flowers, especially the large buzzy one who lives nearby in the rodent hole by the compost heap. One morning when dawn was at 6.30 am this bumblebee was already at work… at 7.30 pm as dusk approached, it was still going.

Morning Glories, Foxgloves & Salvia Hotlips were our garden’s best bumblebee blooms this season. Today, 10th October 2020, one foxglove trumpet remains.