Foxgloves

“…All the foxglove belfries stand.
Should they startle over the land,
None would know what bells they be.
Never any wind can ring them,
Nor the great black bees that swing them–
Every crimson bell, down-slanted,
Is so utterly enchanted.

Foxgloves

Mary Webb (1881-1927)

~

It’s a misty Monday, a steady rain has fallen since the opening dawn with heavy rain dancing percussively across the slates. Gutters and down-pipes disgorging the torrent across the patio and paths. The layer of dust from the recent weeks of sunshine floats along the rivulets – revealing a greener, fresher garden, sweetly scented with the final May blossoms and first roses.

Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) have burst into bloom, standing tall in the flower beds. Over the past few days, bees have visited, buzzing delightedly in the trumpet flowers. There is something magnificent and perhaps magical about this plant; long associated with the fairy-folk and magic.

Foxglove

As kids we plucked the individual flowers and wore them on our fingers delighting in their (seemingly) perfect fit. When my own daughter did this on a school trip the teacher almost had a heart attack (right plant then?) 😀

If eaten – this plant is poisonous containing cardiac glycosides, the plant from which digitalis is derived and used medically to treat various heart ailments. Julian Barker doesn’t even discuss the plant beyond a simple description, lay people and herbalists are not permitted to use “either the plant or standardised preparations of the whole leaf“. There have been several recorded self-poisonings from mistakenly using the leaves in salads. It can look like comfrey, though when you compare each, the texture is quite different. A cardiologist friend told me about a young person who had mistaken the leaf for dandelion. NOT a plant to be messed with but a lovely plant to be admired in the garden, a great bee plant and shelter plant for smaller insects.

Mutant flower

Over the past few years I’ve noticed that just occasionally something odd happens. Normally the terminal (topmost) flower opens last  – this is an example of a “terminal peloria” a mutation. Compared to the rest of the flowers on the spike it’s huge and bowl-shaped rather than lipped as the others are.

Foxglove "terminal peloria"

Its make-up is quite different too, looking more like a Campanula (Bell flower), quite different from a normal foxglove.  Sometimes these are described as Digitalis purpurea monstrosa  – a monster. Botanists have described these flowers since the  mid 19th century, research has shown that the mutation is caused by a Mendelian recessive gene. There are two in the garden at the moment but the majority are beautiful standards in purple and white.

Foxgloves and Japanese quince

As I write the the swallows are mobbing a pair of crows intent on gobbling up the chicken feed in the shed. It usually takes me a little while to realise that the noise coming from the shed is not the chickens having a feed but two greedy, glossy feathered scoundrels! I must admit they do look in very good condition!

Thanks for stopping by today – hope you are enchanted by your garden too!

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