Plant of the day: foxglove

Tall spikes of white or purple flowers are bursting like flares across Marin. This is the season for foxglove, another striking-looking invasive. Native to all parts of Europe, it has now colonized much of North America, where it appears to prefer the coastal areas to the heartland. You can find it in from Alaska to Mexico, and on much of the east coast as well. Digitalis purpurea can grow to be taller than a full-grown person and is quick to colonize areas that have been disturbed such as road sides, logging or building sites.

Foxglove is also highly toxic so don’t eat it!! Small amounts have been known to be fatal. Some of its other names give you a clue that this is a bad idea: Witches’ Gloves, Dead Men’s Bells, Bloody Fingers, and Fairy’s Glove just name a few. Yet in its noteworthy history, Digitalis was also used as a medicinal plant by herbalists. They were on to something: extracts from the plant are now used pharmaceutically to treat congestive heart failure. As much as I appreciate folk remedies, this is one I’m glad the scientific establishment has gotten involved with; messing around with a plant that supposedly killed some kids who drank the water from a vase containing foxgloves seems like a bad idea!

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Filed under Invasive, Non-native, Plant of the day, Poisonous

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