This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
The Foxglove is distributed throughout West Europe in the N. Temperate Zone. It is unknown in early deposits. In Great Britain it is absent in Cambridge, Hunts, Northants, E. Gloucs, S. Lincs, Mid Lancs, E. Sutherland, Shetlands, ascending to 2000 ft. in the Highlands. It occurs in Ireland and the Channel Islands.
The Foxglove is a plant that frequents upland wooded tracts, stony-hillsides with scattered clumps of trees. In such places it is common. Elsewhere it is a casual, a few seeds cast adventitiously on sandy ground propagating and spreading in an astonishingly short period of time. It does not frequent as a rule low-lying ground.
The stem is tall and handsome, simple, leafy, downy, with spreading hairs, rounded. The lower leaves are stalked, between egg-shaped and lance-shaped, scalloped, toothed, deeply veined, with a marked midrib, downy both sides. The upper stem-leaves are stalkless.
The flowers are borne upon a long raceme with flowers all turned one side, on 1-flowered flower-stalks, thickened and suberect. The sepals are between egg-shaped and lance-shaped, with nerves, the posterior one small. The corolla is bell-shaped, monopetalous or tubular, purple, with spots within the mouth, gaping behind, and the upper lip is somewhat cloven, the lower one has rounded segments. The erect capsule is 2-valved, the seeds numerous, small, round, and black or reddish-brown, and flattened lengthwise.
The stately stem reaches a height of 4 ft. The Foxglove is in flower from June to September. The plant is biennial, reproduced by seeds. It is largely cultivated.
The flower is a big clapper-like bell hanging downwards, protecting the honey in a ring at the base of the ovary. It is visited only by humble bees. The anthers mature before the stigma. If insects do not visit it, it pollinates itself. An annular or ring-like ridge at the base of the ovary, which is quite smooth and hairy above, secretes the honey, serving to give a foothold, or to exclude flies, etc. The anthers and stigma near the upper wall of the corolla point downwards. The lower stamens mature before the upper and before the stigma, and the longer first become vertical, then the shorter ones. The 4 anthers open before the lobes of the stigma separate. The pistil lies between the anthers. Insects touch the latter on entering, and may remove all the pollen before the stigma is ripe. If insects do not visit them the anthers are covered with pollen till the lobes of the stigma have spread out. When the corolla drops the stigma is smeared with pollen. Even in dull weather the flowers are pollinated. The Hymenoptera, Bombus, Andrena, Halictus, Coleoptera, Meligethes, Antherophagus, Dasytes visit it. The flower is self-fertile. The flower lasts six days.
The capsule opens when ripe, the fruit splitting along the partition, and the seeds fall out automatically or by contraction of their inner layer of cells.
The Foxglove is a sand-loving plant, growing on sand soil, or a rock-lover, growing" on a variety of rock soil, such as granite or slate.
Two beetles, Antherophagus nigricornis, Apteropoda graminis, three moths, Melittis artemis, Small Angle-shades (Euplexia lucipara), Sword-grass (Calocampa exoleta), and a Heteropterous insect, Dicyphus pallidicornis, are found on it.
Digitalis, Gesner, is from the Latin in allusion to the finger-like shape of the corolla, and the second Latin name refers to its colour.
Foxglove is called Dead Man's Bell, Blob, Bloody Finger, Bloody Man's Fingers, Bluidy Bells, Cottagers, Cowflop, Cowslip, Cowslop, Dead Men's Bellows, Flap or Pop Dock, Flop or Flous Docken, Dog fingers, Dog's-lugs, Dragon's Mouth, Fairies' Petticoats, Fairy Bell, Fairy Cap, Fairy Fingers, Fairy Glove, Lady's Purple, Flap-dock, Flobby Dock, Flop-a-dock, Folk's Glove, Fox-docken, Fox-fingers, Foxglove, Foxter-leaves, Foxtree, Green Pops or Poppies, Goose Flops, King's Elwand, Lady Glove, Lady's Thimble, Lion's Mouth, Lusmore, Scotch Wild Mercury, Pop-glove, Poppers, Poppy, Pops, Rabbit Flower, Snapdragon, Snaps, Snoxuns, Thimble, Fairy Thimble, Witches' Thimble. It is called Pops (and Pop Dock) because children inflate the corolla, and then make it bang like a paper bag.
As to the name Snoxuns the forest folk have a saving, " A went a-buz'n away like a dumbley dory in a snoxun ", which they apply to a dull preacher. Snock means a sharp blow, and it may be applied for the same reason as the last. Foxgloves are called Cottagers " because they belong to the poor people ".
"In Suffolk and Essex", a writer says, "they are called Blobs, because the children pull off a flower, and with the fingers of one hand closing up the mouth and giving the other end a slap, it bursts with a noise like the word blob."
Gerarde says: "Some do call them finger flowers because they are like unto the fingers of a glove, the ends cut off". In regard to the name Flap Dock, a writer says: " I knew an old countryman once who compared a prosy preacher to a drumble drane (humble bee) upon a flapper dock." Flowster docken means a dock with showy flower, flowster being to flourish, flutter in showy colours. Foxglove is folk (fairies) glove.
Photo. B. Hanley - Foxglove (digitalis Purpurea, L.)
The plant was called Witches' Bells because witches were supposed to wear the flowers on their fingers. So, too, fairies' petticoats were formed of the corolla, and glove and caps also. Fairies used it as a thimble to mend their clothes. The plant was used as a cure for hydrophobia.
This plant is poisonous, acting strongly upon the heart, and is used in medicine, the leaves being used as a sedative and diuretic. The pulse can be regulated by a careful administration of this drug. Taken in excess it causes vomiting, purging, delirium, sweating, convulsion, and death. It is emetic and purgative, and has been used for epilepsy, and as an ointment for scrofula, tumours, and ulcers.
Essential Specific Characters: 233. Digitalis purpurea, L. - Stem tall, erect, leaves ovate, veined, downy below, lower petioled, flowers purple, spotted, drooping, in terminal raceme, campanulate.