A fantasy flower that is often overlooked.
by Steven W. Brown, AIFD
1 STAND UP. Commonly known as
foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, pronounced di-ji-TAL-is pur-pur-EE-a, is
one of the most overlooked spike flowers. Its spikes have spotted,
thimblelike florets that hang downward, giving the stems a fantasylike
appearance. The bell-shaped tubular florets are usually 1.5 inches to
2.5 inches long.
2 POCKETBOOK FAMILY. Foxgloves are
members of the Scrophulariaceae family, a large and horticulturally
important family commonly known as the figworts. Comprised mostly of
ornamental plants, it includes many popular flowers like snapdragons,
Veronicas, Penstemons and Calceolarias.
3 VERY FOXY. Foxgloves originated in
Europe and were introduced to North America as ornamental plants. They
have naturalized and are found wild in parts of Oregon, Washington and
West Virginia. The common name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon “foxes
glofa,” (the glove of the fox). The botanical name comes from the Latin
“digitus” (finger), referring to the shape of the flowers. The species
name “purpurea” means purple, in reference to the common color of this
4 NOT SO COMMON NAMES. Foxgloves
have a whimsical appearance and lots of common names that spark the
imagination such as fairy cap, fairy finger, dog’s finger, finger
flower, lady’s glove, lady’s finger, lady’s thimble, lion’s mouth,
rabbit’s flower, dead men’s bells and bloody fingers. Legend has it that
the marks on the foxglove were a warning sign of the poisons secreted by
the plant. Many names of this plant pertain to its toxic nature.
5 ROMANCE COLORS. Foxglove’s colors
include pink, yellow, purple, red and white. These flowers are always
bicolored, with spots or speckles in the throat.
6 IT TAKES TWO. Foxgloves are
available year-round from domestic growers. They are biennial plants and
will take two years to produce blossom spikes.
7 CHECK, PLEASE. Purchase foxgloves
when the lower florets are fully opened and the upper florets are
showing color. Look for signs of pollen or overdeveloped stems.
Pollinated flowers produce ethylene gas more rapidly: the more pollen,
the faster the flowers die. Foxgloves’ fuzzy foliage has a tendency to
develop powdery mildew. Avoid stems that show any signs of disease.
8 SILVER AND SULFUR? Foxgloves are
sensitive to ethylene and require post-harvest care treatment to prevent
damage. Check with your wholesaler to make sure the flowers have been
treated with an ethylene inhibitor at the farm or during transportation.
9 CUT, CUT, CUT. Upon receipt, cut
foxglove stems and remove foliage that will fall below the water line.
Then dip or place the stems into a hydration solution. After this
treatment, place stems into a clean container of properly prepared
flower food. Flowers should be stored upright at temperatures of 34 F to
36 F. These tall linear flowers are geotropic (have a response to
gravity) and will begin to curve upwards if stored diagonally or
10 TIME GOES BY. Foxgloves’ vase
life will vary depending on cultivar. Generally, they will last five to
10 days with optimum care and handling. Foxgloves drink lots of water,
so check water levels frequently. Customers should be directed to
display these stems out of direct sun- light and away from heat and
Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of
horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 27
years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry.
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