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The fascinating flying foxglove

July 15, 2015

The wild foxgloves are flowering in the woods, their mauve spires vivid against the background greens.

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As I child, I was fascinated by foxgloves. Their evocative name and the warnings of their being deadly poisonous gave them an eerie, faerie allure. I’ve never managed to imagine foxes wearing these flowerets  on their clawed little paws, but I was often tempted to slip them over my own fingers.

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Only my mother’s warning of their poison stopped me – that, and the ever-present possibility of sticking one’s finger into an indignant bee by mistake.

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Spot the bee’s behind!

The bees seem to be unaffected by the digitalis toxins, and are as busy in these strange, spotted hoods as they are in the clover on the grass this month. It’s always a pleasure to see them at work.

Keeping out of their way, I turn for home, noticing as I go how the spires of the plant echo the boughs of the ancient beech behind them. I could look and look, but duty calls.

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Note: Foxgloves are also known in some places as witches’ gloves. They are traditionally associated with witchcraft, as witches allegedly used the toxin from the plant to enable them to fly. As digitalis poisoning can induce vivid hallucinations, there may well be some basis to this tale. Nowadays, carefully controlled digitalis extract is used in pharmaceutical medicine to benefit heart patients. No flying required.

You might also enjoy Ariel’s Song.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2015 11:11 am

    Lovely. I used to poke my finger up foxglove flowers too – no noticeable side effects! 🙂 That last photo is a perfect natural arrangement, as you say!

  2. July 16, 2015 5:31 pm

    Just beautiful Kate. We have a garden in Essex that was once owned by a Victorian plant collector. I mainly visit in spring because it is know for it’s fields of daffodils, but I went a few weeks back not knowing that the foxgloves are equally prolific. I was in for a delight! I have never seen so many and they are magical plants, just as you say.

    • July 17, 2015 9:29 am

      Oh how lovely. Having grown up seeing them as weeds (beautiful ones, but NOT something my parents wanted to see in their garden) I am now contemplating getting some of the pale cultivars for my garden here. They are such a fine structure and are so pretty.

  3. hmunro permalink
    July 16, 2015 10:33 pm

    I’ve seen these in the wild but never knew what they were called — nor did I know they’re poisonous. (Good thing I resisted the apparently universal urge to wear them as tiny, velvety finger-socks!) Thank you for taking me into the woods with you, DB.

    • July 17, 2015 9:31 am

      I can see a new hashtag trending: #foxglove-finger-socks. 😀

      • hmunro permalink
        July 17, 2015 6:39 pm

        Hahahaa! And perhaps the follow-up: #in-hospital-for-digitalis-digits 🙂

  4. July 16, 2015 10:37 pm

    I do love foxgloves and these ones are beauties.

    • July 17, 2015 12:10 pm

      They are beautiful, aren’t they – and I like that there is so much more to them than meets the eye.

  5. July 18, 2015 6:24 am

    Lovely photograph, Dancing Beastie. There are two of these pretty things growing in a rather neglected patch opposite the downstairs loo window….one pink and one cream. I admire them most mornings at about six o’ clock…then promptly forget, as my day “busyficates”. Thank you for the image and the wee mental reminder to just stand and stare, sometimes.

  6. Toffeeapple permalink
    July 18, 2015 1:16 pm

    Mine were all finished by the first week of July, so thank you for posting this. They are lovely.

  7. July 19, 2015 10:48 pm

    A great post! I have foxgloves in my small garden, where everything must earn its place, because I think they are fantastic flowers. I particularly enjoy pinging the dried stalks in the autumn to spread the seeds around – another way in which they “fly”. And then in the spring there will be an abundance of little seedlings, and I can pick and choose which ones stay, or indeed move them about. They give me the greatest pleasure.

    • July 21, 2015 6:00 pm

      I bet they look lovely in your garden. I didn’t know about ‘pinging’ them – might try that!

  8. July 25, 2015 9:43 am

    beauties they are, and they grow in such a beautiful spot! I too was always fascinated by them as a child. In the Netherlands they are called “vingerhoed” which means “hat for the finger”….

  9. July 30, 2015 12:45 am

    I’ve never seen these only read about them in novels. They are quite beautiful with that little detailing on the inside of the “glove”. They do look fairy painted

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