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Poisonous Plants: Common Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Common foxglove is a biennial or short-lived herbaceous perennial that is native to southern Europe and Asia where it grows in disturbed sites such as along roadsides, in fields, and in burned or logged over areas. It is a member of the plantain family (Plantaginaceae) that also includes speedwell (Veronica), turtlehead (Chelone), and Penstemon. The genus name, Digitalis, is from the Latin word digitus meaning finger and refers to the finger-like shape of the flowers.

Description: In the first year the plant produces an evergreen basal rosette of light green leaves that are wrinkled and downy. In the second year it produces one-sided raceme of two to three inch long pendulous purple finger-like flowers with white spots. The flowering begins in late spring and continues for about a month. The flowers are attractive to humming birds and bees, the seeds to birds. Plants freely reseed. Many cultivars have been developed that expand the range of colors available.

Poisonous Properties: Plants contain steroid glycosides, including digitoxin, digitalin, and related compounds that act together on the heart muscles. The leaves, flowers and seeds are poisonous and even drying and boiling do not deactivate the toxic properties. Symptoms of poisoning include pain in the mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, severe headache, contracted pupils, low pulse rate, tremors, convulsions, uncoordinated contractions of different parts of the heart, and death due to cardiac arrest. Children have been poisoned by eating flowers and drinking the vase water that contained the flowers; animals eat the plant only when other food is unavailable but have been known to died from eating the leaves.