Foxgloves are some of the most recognisable wildflowers out at the moment. They are found in woodland, along hedgerows and riverbanks, on heath and chalkland, hillsides, coasts and sea cliffs. Molly Martin shares five facts about these stunning but deadly beauties.
Five facts about foxgloves
1. Foxgloves are tall! They’re one of the tallest wildflowers in Scotland, growing an average of up to 2-4 feet, but they can get much taller than that and tower over people! The tallest foxglove ever is reported to be over 11 feet, and it’s not uncommon to be eye-to-eye with these purple blooms. Each stem can produce up to 75 flowers, releasing up to two million seeds. Flowers are only produced in the second year of growth, and are most often bright purple, but you can find white or pink versions in the wild too.
2. Pollinators are huge fans of foxgloves. You will often see bees, hoverflies and other insects crawl inside the flowers, have a good old slurp on the nectar inside, gracefully turn around inside the tube, and come buzzing out looking for their next sugary snack. The inside of foxglove flowers are covered in dark brown spots - these act as a honey guide for bees showing up really well under ultra violet light (which is how bees see), and directing them inside the flower. On their way up the flower, the bee rubs up against the pollen, and then delivers this into the next flower it visits.
3. The name ‘foxglove’ comes from the idea that the flowers are the right size and shape for foxes to wear on their paws. It’s thought that this allows them to walk without making a sound, allowing them to sneak up on prey with ease. However, some people say foxgloves comes from ‘folksgloves’ as in fairy folk, and the idea of fairies wearing or living in these flowers is widespread! The gaelic for foxglove is ‘lus nam ban-sìth’, meaning plant of the fairies. Other names include fairy cap, fairy thimbles, fairy finger, fairybells, dog's-finger, finger flower, lady's-glove and many more!
4. But that’s not where the folklore ends, it is said that the spots inside the flowers of foxgloves are marks from where fairies have touched them, and that witches use foxgloves to help them fly. It’s also thought that foxglove juice would keep fairies away if they were trying to steal children, there is even a tradition in Scotland where leaves of a foxglove are put into a new born baby's cradle to protect the baby from being bewitched! It is said to be bad luck to cut the flowers and have them in your house. Foxgloves are extremely poisonous, so it is definitely a bad idea to cut them, touch them or eat any part of the plant, whether you believe in luck or not!
5. Despite being so poisonous, foxgloves are extremely useful in medicine and science, with medicinal uses being dated back to the Romans. Romans used foxgloves as a heart tonic, and in the Middle Ages, it was used to treat ulcers and also as a cough medicine. Nowadays we get a drug called digitalin from foxgloves, which is used to treat heart conditions. Other chemicals found in the plant are used to detect DNA in lab samples.
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