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