Wild Foxgloves in the Woods

Foxgloves bankside streamSince the start of June I’ve noticed in passing foxgloves waving their fairy fingers or witch’s gloves – some of their other common names – by the sides of roads, cottage front gardens or along banks across the Sussex countryside. But it was a wild orchid which lured me off a woodlands path into their midst. Wild orchid cricket

Foxgloves had filled an area in the woods where trees had been felled and cleared last year. Dead men’s bells or bloody fingers or lady’s thimbles grew tall in the dappled light of this clearing. Foxgloves in pine woods Foxgloves woods

On gossamer nights when the moon is low,

And stars in the mist are hiding,

Over the hills where the foxgloves grow

You may see the fairies riding.

From The Fairy Thrall by Mary C G Byron (1861-1936)

Cluster Foxgloves in woods Foxglove spikes

The  bell shaped flowers of the dragon’s mouth or the fairy’s petticoat may sway sweetly in the breeze but their petals, stems, roots and seeds are all toxic. Yet foxgloves – Digitalis purpurea – are friends of the bumblebee and their toxin has medical value.

In the year 1775 my opinion was asked concerning a family receipt for the cure of the dropsy. I was told that it had long been kept a secret by an old woman in Shropshire, who had sometimes made cures after the more regular practitioners had failed. I was informed also, that the effects produced were violent vomiting and purging; for the diuretic effects seemed to have been overlooked. This medicine was composed of twenty or more different herbs; but it was not very difficult for one conversant in these subjects, to perceive, that the active herb could be no other than the Foxglove.” From An Account of Foxglove and some of its Medical Uses published 1785 by William Withering, the discoverer of digitalis.

Foxgloves are a source of digitoxin, a glycoside used in the drug digitalis, which has been used as a heart stimulant since 1785.” Kew

The US Department of Agriculture lists foxgloves as an invasive weed. Foxgloves woods clearingFoxgloves in pine woods

I’ve had the saddest dream that ever troubled

The heart of living creature. – My poor Babe

Was crying, as I thought, crying for bread

When I had none to give him; whereupon,

I put a slip of foxglove in his hand,

Which pleased him so, that he was hushed at once:

When, into one of those same spotted bells

A bee came darting, which the Child with joy

Imprisoned there, and held it to his ear,

And suddenly grew black, as he would die.”

From The Borderers (1795-7) by William Wordsworth

Foxglove dappled wood light

The next time I pass a lone fairy bell or a bloody bells in the woods, I know that more could be gathered together pass the darkness. I just need to find a clearing in the middle of the woods where trees have been coppiced or felled and the light sneaks through the treetops. There between June and September I may find the foxgloves and the witch’s gloves and the fairy gloves and the folk’s gloves pointing skywards all together. Foxgloves growing in clusters


8 thoughts on “Wild Foxgloves in the Woods”

    1. It’s the first time I’ve come upon such a scene too with foxgloves! Apparently it’s not unusual in woods where there’s a clearing due to felling or coppicing.

  1. Floxgloves are my fave! I always love how accomodating they are to bees. YOu can never bug the bees inside their petals. They are protected from prying eyes like mine haha.

    I am far from the woods and it takes so much to go there so thanks for always sharing your amazing photos. They do look different and yet they have the same beauty of the ones here in the local garden.


  2. looking forward to my uk visit in july, to see what i can find in the countryside, i sort of forget what grows where and when these days

  3. So lovely Kriss! This reminds me of a clearing in the forest here I need to get too. They felled a load of trees and hundreds of foxgloves have popped up in place of the trees – magical!
    Lovely lovely photos x

  4. Lovely post Kriss and possibly my favourite summer wild flower. When we came here 9 years ago our local paths had been recently opened up as the farmers coppiced the hedgerow trees and the sides were full of foxgloves. The trees have now regrown and there are fewer foxgloves … well here at any rate but down the path a bit where the coppicing is more recent there are hundreds. Do you know the tale of the fox using foxgloves to catch his prey? I feel a foxglove post of my own is needed to tell all – thank you for the inspiration!

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