Digitalis oscura
Digitalis oscura / Spikey John

The sunset foxglove

  • A native Spanish perennial belonging to the foxglove family with stunning blooms the colour of a beautiful sunset

Digitalis obscura, commonly known as the sunset foxglove or willow leaved foxglove, is native to southern and eastern Spain and Morocco. In Spanish it is known as ‘brugía’, ‘dedalera negra’ and ‘hierba de las úlceras’.

The flowers are unmistakably those of the foxglove although the colour is not. The distinctive racemes of tubular flowers are rusty orange and burnt umber with dark red speckles and veining in the ‘throat’. The leaves too are unlike those of the British native foxglove (Digitalis purpurea); they are glossy, narrow and tapering.

The sunset foxglove forms large clumps with flower spikes around half a metre tall. It is drought resistant once established although deep watering occasionally throughout the summer is recommended. Although it will grow in full sun, it prefers dappled shade and will flower from May all through the summer.

In cold winter the leaves may turn brown but the root ball should survive frosts. Mulching well in the autumn with a thick layer of composted organic material will help ensure its survival. Dead heading will promote a further flush of flowers. The seed can be collected when ripe and sown in the spring but the resulting seedlings may vary in flower coloration.

All foxgloves are toxic if ingested however a ‘tea’ made from the leaves and added to the water in a vase will make cut flowers last longer. Foxgloves are also an excellent plant for the vegetable garden as grown next to potatoes, tomatoes and apple trees they can help to stimulate growth and increase resistance to disease.

Foxgloves were often included in gardens hundreds of years ago as they were used medicinally to cure wounds and toothache. They were also believed to keep evil away although cutting them and bringing them indoors was considered to bring bad luck.