Common foxglove beautiful, yet toxic

November 13, 2007 


    Scientific name: Digitalis purpurea
    Where found: Moist areas, roadsides, forest edges along the coast — mostly at low elevations
    Places to look: Arlecho Creek, South Summit Trail in the Chuckanuts

— The common foxglove is a deadly beauty, which is why critters avoid munching on the pinkish-purple flowers or any other part of this poisonous plant.

Eating the plants cause illness (symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and irregular heartbeats) and death, although hummingbirds feed on them with no ill effects. However, the plants contain chemicals used in the drug digitalis, which is taken by those with heart disease.

Despite its toxic nature, foxglove is a popular garden plant. It’s easy to see why, given the flowers’ dramatic good looks. Dense bunches of bell-shaped flowers grow on spikes that can be as tall as 6 feet, and the blooms are further decorated by spots found inside their petals.

The green leaves are hairy, soft and egg- or lance-shaped.

The plant was introduced to the Northwest coast from Europe and Turkey and has naturalized, meaning it has established itself thoroughly.

Sources: “Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast,” by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon; “Field Guide to the Cascades & Olympics,” by Stephen R. Whitney and Rob Sandelin; Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility; “Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest,” by Mark Turner and Phyllis Gustafson

Reach Kie Relyea at or 715-2234.

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