Saturday 15 June
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
Foxglove fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
The foxglove is a familiar tall herb that produces 20-80 nodding flowers on a long spike, known as a raceme(2). The tube-like flowers are pinkish-purple in colour, with an area of white inside the tube, which features darker purple spots and a few hairs. More rarely, white flowers may appear (2). The greyish stem is woolly, and the green, oval or lance-shaped leaves have downy upper surfaces, but are woolly below (2). The common name derives from the Anglo-Saxon 'foxes glofa' meaning foxes gloves, and refers to the tubular flowers, which are suggestive of the gloves of a small animal. The flowers were also known as 'witches' thimbles’ by Medieval herbalists (4).Top
The foxglove is a biennial plant, but more rarely occurs as a perennial. The flowers are present from June to September (5) and are pollinated by bumble-bees (2). Plants produce prolific amounts of seed, and have a persistent seed bank; features which help to maintain the range of this species (3).
Although toxic, the foxglove has been widely used in folk medicine as a cure for sore throats, as compresses for bruising and ulcers, and as a diuretic; it was, however, often fatal. The 18th Century Scottish physician William Withering made the first scientific investigation into the use of the plant. This study marked the development of modern pharmacology, and its move away from herbal medicine. He discovered that the plant contained a powerful cardio-active agent, which slowed and strengthened the heart rate, and stimulated the kidneys to clear excess fluid from the body (4). The therapeutic dose was however, very close to a lethal dose, and Withering recommended the use of repeated very small, carefully measured amounts until a therapeutic effect was attained (6). The active agents in foxglove, known as digitoxin and digoxin are still used in modern medicine to control heart rate (4). During the Second World War, foxglove leaves were collected by County Herb Committees, in order to make these drugs (4).Top
This species thrives in acidic soils in a range of habitats including open woods, woodland clearings, on moorland and heath margins, hedge banks, sea-cliffs, waste land, rocky mountain slopes and hedgebanks. It is common in disturbed sites, or on burnt ground (3).Top
Widespread and common (3).Top
This species is not threatened.Top
Find out more
For more information on British plants and their conservation see Plantlife- the wild plant conservation charity:
Visit the website of the Botanical Society of the British Isles at:
AuthenticationThis information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: email@example.comTop
- A plant that lives for two years and typically flowers only in the second year.
- Plants that live for at least three seasons; after an initial period they produce flowers once a year.
- An inflorescence where the individual flowers all have distinct stalks. (See http://www.rbgkew.org.uk/ksheets/pdfs/flower.pdf for a fact sheet on flower structure).
- National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (Feb 2003): http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
- Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G. & Moore, D.M. (1987) Flora of the British Isles. 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. & Dines, T.D. (2002) The New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
- Press, B. & Gibbons, B (1993) Photographic field guide to wild flowers of Britain and Europe. New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd, London.
- Paul May (1996) University of Bristol School of Chemistry. (Feb 2003): http://www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/Chemistry/MOTM/digitalis/digitalis.htm
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.