Digitalis purpurea

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This article is about the flowering plant. For the band, see Digitalis Purpurea (band).
Digitalis purpurea
Digitalis-stora hultrum.sweden-24.jpg
Digitalis purpurea (Common Foxglove)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Plantaginaceae[1]
Genus: Digitalis
Species: D. purpurea
Binomial name
Digitalis purpurea

Digitalis purpurea (foxglove, common foxglove, purple foxglove or lady's glove) is a species of flowering plant in the genus Digitalis, in the family Scrophulariaceae, native and widespread throughout most of temperate Europe. It is also naturalised in parts of North America and some other temperate regions. The plants are well known as the original source of the heart medicine digoxin (also called digitalis or digitalin).


Digitalis purpurea is an herbaceous biennial or short-lived perennial plant. The leaves are spirally arranged, simple, 10–35 cm long and 5–12 cm broad, and are covered with gray-white pubescent and glandular hairs, imparting a woolly texture. The foliage forms a tight rosette at ground level in the first year.

The flowering stem develops in the second year, typically 1 to 2 m tall, sometimes longer. The flowers are arranged in a showy, terminal, elongated cluster, and each flower is tubular and pendent. The flowers are typically purple, but some plants, especially those under cultivation, may be pink, rose, yellow, or white. The inside surface of the flower tube is heavily spotted. The flowering period is early summer, sometimes with additional flower stems developing later in the season. The plant is frequented by bees, which climb right inside the flower tube to gain the nectar within.

The fruit is a capsule which splits open at maturity to release the numerous tiny (0.1-0.2 mm) seeds.


The three subspecies of Digitalis purpurea are:

  • D. p. subsp. purpurea – most of Europe
  • D. p. subsp. heywoodii – Iberia
  • D. p. subsp. mariana – Iberia



The plant is popular as a garden subject, and numerous cultivars have been developed with a range of colours from white through pink to purple, such as "Dalmatian Purple". Cultivated forms often show flowers completely surrounding the central spike, in contrast to the wild form, where the flowers only appear on one side. D. purpurea is easily grown from seed or purchased as potted plants in the spring. The following selections have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:

  • 'The Shirley'[2]
  • 'Excelsior group'[3]
  • D. purpurea f. alba[4]

Digitalis purpurea is hardy to zones 4-9.[5]


Digoxigenin (DIG) is a steroid found exclusively in the flowers and leaves of the plants Digitalis purpurea and Digitalis lanata. It is used as a molecular probe to detect DNA or RNA. It can easily be attached to nucleotides by chemical modifications. DIG molecules are often linked to uridine nucleotides; DIG-labeled uridine (DIG-U) can then be incorporated into RNA probes via in vitro transcription. Once hybridisation occurs in situ, RNA probes with the incorporated DIG-U can be detected with anti-DIG antibodies conjugated to alkaline phosphatase. To reveal the hybridised transcripts, alkaline phosphatase can be reacted with a chromogen to produce a coloured precipitate.

In literature and music[edit]

This plant inspired a famous poem by the Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli titled "Digitale Purpurea". It also inspired the Italian industrial metal band Digitalis Purpurea.



  1. ^ Olmstead, R. G., dePamphilis, C. W., Wolfe, A. D., Young, N. D., Elisons, W. J. & Reeves P. A. (2001). "Disintegration of the Scrophulariaceae". American Journal of Botany (American Journal of Botany, Vol. 88, No. 2) 88 (2): 348–361. doi:10.2307/2657024. JSTOR 2657024. PMID 11222255. 
  2. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Digitalis purpurea 'The Shirley'". Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  3. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Digitalis purpurea 'Excelsior Group'". Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  4. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Digitalis purpurea f. alba". Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  5. ^ Digitalis purpurea ‘Dalmatian Purple’