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Digitalis ferruginea

Digitalis ferruginea

This wonderful, tall, rusty foxglove adds an eye-catching edge throughout Harlow Carr in July, and you can find them in profusion on the Main Borders this month.

Vital statistics

Common name
Rusty foxglove
Height & spread
1.2m(4ft) x 45cm (18in)
Robust biennial or short-lived perennial
Grow in any moist but well-drained soil
Prefers partial shade
Hardy throughout the British Isles


This is a genus of about 22 species of biennials and short-lived perennials from Europe, NW Africa and Asia. The leaves are simple, mainly oblong to lance shaped mostly mid-green. It produces inflated, tubular-bell shaped flowers which are often spotted inside.

Foxgloves are mainly natives of woodland clearings, and often colonise newly-cleared forest areas. They are well suited for the wild and woodland garden, and most will look good enough to be well placed in the herbaceous and mixed border.

The name is a Latinization of the German name 'fingernut' from the Latin digitus meaning 'a finger'. The flower is like the finger of a glove. The English name comes not from foxes, but from the phrase 'folks' gloves' because it was thought that the flowers were used as gloves by fairy folk.

D. purpurea is a source of digitalin used in cardiac medicine. If eaten it will cause severe discomfort.

Digitalis ferruginea

D. ferruginea is a native of the northern Mediterranean. An unusual rosette-forming biennial, or short lived perennial, it produces oblong to lance shaped dark green leaves, sometimes hairy underneath 5-20cm (2-8in) long.

In summer, racemes of golden brown flowers 3.5cm (1.5in) long which have rich red to dark brown veins inside are produced, hence the common name of 'Rusty foxglove'.

It attains a height of 1.2m (4ft) and a width of 45cm (18in).


  • Foxgloves are good for a border or naturalizing in woodland. They can be grown in almost any soil and situation, except very wet or very dry, although most prefer humus-rich soil in partial shade.
  • Some species self seed profusely, so unless seedlings are required dead head after flowering.
  • Deadheading will provide a secondary flush of bloom.
  • Digitalis ferruginea is susceptible to powdery and downy mildew, fungal leaf spots, and crown and root rots, especially on heavy wet soils.


  • Propagate by seed in containers in a cold frame in late spring


The RHS Herbaceous Plant Committee awarded Digitalis ferruginea an Award of Garden Merit describing it as:

"a solid flower spike; neat, not gaudy."

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