Thursday’s Feature: Digitalis x mertonensis

I’ve said it before that I’m not much of a joiner and I’m far too disorganized to keep up with most weekly or monthly memes, but I’m going to give this one a try.  Kimberley over at Cosmos and Cleome has brought back the “Thursday feature” and it’s a chance to highlight any one particular plant which caught your fancy in the past week.  This week among all the wonders of June a foxglove has caught my eye and it’s just a little bit different than your average foxglove.

digitalis mertonensis

Fuzzy leaves, a strawberry color, and a 3-4 foot bloom height are trademarks of Merton’s foxglove and/or the strawberry foxglove (Digitalis mertonensis).

The strawberry foxglove (Digitalis x mertonensis) is a hybrid formed by the joining of your regular tall, purple (biennial) Digitalis purpurea and your shorter, mellow yellow (perennial) Digitalis grandiflora.  The offspring was a tetraploid child with perennial-ish tendencies, larger flowers, and a rose color that holds just a little bit of yellow (you can always count on me for these vague made up color descriptions!)  They come true from seed, and although most sources recommend moist, fertile, well-drained, soil in part shade, mine suffer along just fine in a dry sunny spot which also grows sunflowers well enough.

I noticed a few seedlings earlier in the year and should really round them up for a more suitable home.  This foxglove is one which seems to do well enough in my garden (unlike the common foxglove, D. purpurea which rots away in our winters) and deserves more respect than I give it.  Maybe this summer I’ll finally start up some of those other Digitalis seeds which are sitting in the seedbox, and we could have a family reunion with all the foxglove cousins and kin.  I think I’d like that.

As I’m sure you know foxgloves (Digitalis) are extremely poisonous and their heart slowing toxin was the inspiration for the digitalin drug group.  I’m not the one to go on about medicinal uses, but if your concerns lie in the area of its toxicity please put that one to rest.  Apparently some brave soul has found it to be extremely bitter, and a side effect of ingestion is vomiting which conveniently removes the poisons.  Give this one a try I say, and also give Kimberley’s site a visit to see what other gardeners are finding interesting this week.  Enjoy!

23 comments on “Thursday’s Feature: Digitalis x mertonensis

  1. Cathy says:

    I think the thought of it being poisonous has always put me off growing them, but I must admit this one is rather lovely. I remember watcing the bees get lost in their flowers in my Mum’s garden when I was very little, but have no recollection of being warned of their danger!

    • bittster says:

      My mom also had no problem with us playing around and later growing foxgloves. Datura she ripped out, but the foxgloves must have looked innocent enough!

  2. Alain says:

    They look very good. I have never had much luck with Digitalis purpurea (although D. lutea is a bit of a weed here). I should try D x mertonensis.

    • bittster says:

      The d. purpurea do fantastically until winter hits and then the wet and cold snow seems to rot out the crowns… or maybe it’s exposure to the cold winds and low temperature and a lack of snow. I’m not sure but in any case they don’t often make it.
      I’ll try to remember to collect some seed this summer just in case you can’t find it.

  3. johnvic8 says:

    I love that shade of pinkish-lavender.

  4. I keep forgetting how much I like foxgloves. 🙂

    Other than the classic big-boys I had a charmingly understated one in my “Chocolate Garden” at garden #3. It was Digitalis parviflora, a/k/a “the chocolate foxglove”. There’s a pic of it in my Chocolate Garden post. I grew it from seed in 2006 and the patch had spread amazingly by 2008! The key is to plant it on a slight slope so that it has good drainage.

    • bittster says:

      I don’t remember seeing your post on the chocolate garden, what a good read! Here’s the link if anyone else is interested….
      I probably don’t have seed for d. parviflora but I’m sure it will show up in a seed exchange and I’ll have to give it a try!
      Do you remember what kind of luck you had with the iris ‘Chocolate Mint’? I’ve never known anyone to grow them on the East Coast and am wondering if I should try….

      • Funny you should ask about Chocolate Mint; it did fine in the original Chocolate Garden area which got direct sun only in the morning; it was located at the top of the slight rise and was closest to the house. When I dismantled that area in 2008 I moved the irises just around the corner to the south-facing wall of the same “room”, assuming they’d be happier in full sun. They were… except for Chocolate Mint, which a year later looked positively wimpy, did not bloom at all in 2010 and disappeared entirely by 2011. It was definitely happier with direct sun in the morning only. Got an east facing wall handy? 😉

      • bittster says:

        That might be a tough one, my East facing wall is the house, and it is one of the best spots for just about everything… so it’s mighty full already 🙂

  5. Cathy says:

    What a super foxglove, and aren’t you lucky that it likes you!

  6. Peter/Outlaw says:

    It’s a beauty and looks especially nice with the yellow blooms in the background. Off to the garden to ingest some digitalis leaves to test your information:)

  7. Chloris says:

    But why would you eat foxgloves anyway? Many of the plants we grow are poisonous, so we just have to resist the urge to snack on them.
    Your Mertonensis is lovely. I grew Pam’ s Choice which is lovely too, or should be, but it has turned out to be plain old purpurea, which is a swindle.

    • bittster says:

      I’ve never been too worried about the poisonous plant thing. I think even something as innocent as rhubarb can be toxic… but I can think of dozens of more dangerous things to do than let a child play in a garden, even one filled with toxic plants.
      Sorry about Pam’s Choice. At least it wasn’t a peony which you nursed along seven years from seed.

  8. Linda says:

    I’m growing every D. purpurea that is for sale that is apricot or peach. Really means pale pink. Just planted the chocolate one this spring. No kids and no pets here so I don’t worry about poisonous plants. Nothing nicer than foxgloves popping up randomly in the garden.

    • bittster says:

      I love the spires of foxglove rising throughout the garden, I just wish they liked my garden more! To add insult to injury I noticed D. purpurea growing wild along one of the local roadsides. It must be something I’m doing that makes them so unhappy.
      I thought for sure there were apricot strains out there, what a disappointment they’re all pink. I think if I had to choose a favorite though it would be the creamy white strains. They look so fresh and clean when the blooms first open.

  9. Layanee says:

    I love digitalis in all forms. The deer are eating everything the caterpillars are leaving but they do not like foxgloves so I am all for them. Yours is lovely.

    • bittster says:

      I can’t imagine what it’s like having nearly everything under attack. Hopefully at least the caterpillars will soon be done for the year. (I can’t see any hope for the deer though)

  10. If you have too many of its seedlings, you know where you can get rid of them! : ) And you know I do love pink! My foxglove are spotty, but there are places around town here that seem to be little foxglove sanctuaries! A week late, I thank you for joining in the meme!

    • bittster says:

      If you can figure out what the foxgloves want then let me know, I’d love to be able to grow a small forest of them in the shadier parts of the garden (all two of them lol). I noticed there are a couple small seedlings coming along. I should move them out to a better spot and I’m sure there would be at least one or two to share!

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