What Does Foxglove Look Like? An In-Depth Examination

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Key Takeaways:

  • Foxglove is a biennial or short-lived perennial herb that grows in woodlands, mountainsides, and disturbed sites.
  • The leaves are oval-shaped and hairy with toothed margins.
  • The flowers are bell-shaped, pink-purple or sometimes white, with dark spots inside.
  • The downward facing flowers have four lobes and are 1.5-2.5 inches long.
  • Flower colors range from purple, pink, white, mauve or yellowish.
  • Many cultivars exist like ‘Alba’ (white), ‘Goldcrest’ (yellowy-peach), and ‘Candy Mountain’ (bright pink).


Foxglove is a unique and iconic flowering plant known for its tall stalks filled with bells that range from purples to pinks to whites. But what exactly does this classic cottage garden plant really look like?

This article will provide a comprehensive visual guide to foxglove’s appearance. It evaluates the plant’s leaves, flowers, colors, sizes, and common cultivars. With detailed descriptions and facts, readers will gain a vivid understanding of foxglove’s look and characteristics.

The extensive information presented here will prove useful to gardeners considering foxglove for their landscape or anyone simply wanting to understand this beloved bloom. Discover what makes the foxglove’s appearance so distinct and appealing.

By the end, you’ll have a clear mental picture of this stately plant that brightens up gardens, forests, and roadsides across much of Europe and North America. The insights within will deepen your appreciation for this ornamental beauty.

What Are the Key Features and Attributes of Foxglove Plants?

Foxglove is a herbaceous perennial or biennial plant that completes its lifecycle in two years. Here are some of its key features:

  • Growth habit: Herbaceous perennial or biennial, dying after flowering and setting seed in its second year.
  • Height: Most varieties reach 2-5 feet tall when in bloom.
  • Spread: Clump-forming, reaching 1-2 feet wide.
  • Flowering season: Late spring to early summer.
  • Flower type: Tubular, bell-shaped with flared openings. Grow in elongated clusters on upright stalks.
  • Leaf type: Oval-shaped, hairy leaves with toothed margins. Form a basal rosette the first year.
  • Native habitat: Woodland clearings, mountainsides, disturbed sites.
  • Hardiness: USDA zones 4-8, can tolerate partial shade.

With an understanding of its growth pattern and structure, it’s easier to visualize the foxglove’s overall appearance. Next, we’ll look closely at each part of the plant.

What Does Foxglove Look Like? An In-Depth Examination

What Do Foxglove’s Leaves Look Like?

The leaves of foxglove plants are one of the key identifying features. Here are the details on their appearance:

  • Shape: Oval or elliptical with pointed tip
  • Margins: Irregularly toothed
  • Surface: Densely hairy, particularly on underside
  • Color: Green on top and paler green below
  • Venation: Reticulate pattern with sunken veins
  • Arrangement: Basal rosette first year, alternate leaf pattern on stalks second year
  • Size: Can reach up to 12 inches long

Foxglove leaves have a distinctly fuzzy, hairy texture and toothed shape. The basal rosette formed in the first year sits low to the ground with leaves radiating outwards on short stems. The second year, leaves alternate up the tall, upright flower stalks. Their large, oval form is a recognizable feature.

What Do Foxglove Flowers Look Like?

The showy, bell-like flowers of foxglove give it a unique and striking appearance. Here are the key characteristics:

  • Shape: Tubular and elongated, flared at mouth into bell shape
  • Flower parts: Petals fused into corolla tubes 2-3.5 inches long, with four lobes at ends
  • Color: Varies between different shades of purple, pink, white, yellow, or red
  • Arrangement: Dense clusters of 10-30 blooms on erect spikes rising above foliage
  • Facing direction: Nodding downward, flowers hang like bells from arching stems
  • Spotting: Interior of bloom features spotted or speckled throats
  • Scent: Lacks fragrance

The tubular, pendant flowers have an elegant and dramatic look, especially when densely packed into tall, vertical spikes. Their speckled interiors and range of pastel colors make each bloom unique.

What Are Common Foxglove Flower Colors?

While purple and pink are the classic foxglove colors, there is some natural diversity in wild plants as well as cultivated varieties:

  • Purple: Ranging from pale lavender to deep violet. Most common wild color.
  • Pink: Varying from light pink to rosy pink. Less common in wild types.
  • White: Pure white or ivory flowers occur in some wild and cultivated forms.
  • Yellow: Pale yellow flowers are rare in wild plants but seen in some cultivars.
  • Red: Wild types with reddish flowers are uncommon, more so in garden hybrids.
  • Multicolored: Some spotted patterns combine white and pink or purple.

While purple and pink foxgloves are the norm, variations in wild plants do arise. Intentional breeding has expanded the color range dramatically in cultivated varieties.

How Big Do Foxglove Plants Grow?

Foxgloves range in size based on specific variety and growing conditions:

  • Height: Most commonly 2-5 feet tall when in flower, with some dwarfed cultivars only 1-2 feet.
  • Flower spike length: 6 inches to 3 feet long. Longer in some hybrids.
  • Flower size: Individual blooms are 1.5-2.5 inches long, with throat diameters of 1-1.5 inches.
  • Stalk width: Typically 0.5-1 inch thick, measuring wider at base.
  • Total bloom count: Each plant can produce 10-30 flowers on a single stalk.

Given suitable rich, moist soil and partial sun to light shade, foxgloves can achieve substantial sizes during their second year flowering. Ensuring adequate moisture and nutrients leads to the tallest and fullest flower spikes.

What Are Some Common Foxglove Varieties?

Many cultivars and hybrids of foxglove have been developed, featuring different heights, colors, and bloom traits:

  • ‘Alba’: A classic white-flowering variety reaching 3-4 feet tall.
  • ‘Goldcrest’: A smaller hybrid with creamy peach and yellow flowers on 15-inch stems.
  • ‘Dalmatian Purple’: Deep purple blooms with white speckled throats, growing 2-3 feet tall.
  • ‘Candy Mountain’: Vibrant pinkish-red blooms on 18-24 inch stems, a dwarf variety.
  • ‘Pam’s Choice’: Prolific bloomer with purple and white bi-colored flowers, reaching 3 feet.
  • ‘Sutton’s Apricot’: Distinct apricot-orange blooms on 2-3 foot stalks.

Gardeners should research strains suitable for their climate and growing conditions. The wide selection means finding a foxglove tailored to your landscape needs and personal tastes.

What Are Some Key Facts About Foxglove’s Origins and Genetics?

Understanding a bit about foxglove’s background provides further insight into its appearance and genetics:

  • Native to woodlands and mountainsides of western and southwestern Europe, northwest Africa, and southwest Asia.
  • Member of the plantain family (Plantaginaceae). Originally in the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae).
  • Genus name Digitalis refers to the finger-shaped flowers.
  • Species name ‘purpurea’ means ‘purple’ in Latin.
  • Extensive hybridization has created many cultivated varieties.
  • Toxic cardioactive compounds digitoxin and digoxin are used medically to treat heart conditions.

The scientific name indicates its defining purple finger-like flowers. While wild types are native to Europe, breeders have expanded the genetic diversity, often selecting for solid flower colors versus spotted throats. Interestingly, the same compounds that make foxglove poisonous have important medical applications.

What Conditions Does Foxglove Prefer to Grow and Flower?

For foxgloves to reach their full flowering potential, certain site conditions are ideal:

  • Sun exposure: Grows best in partial sun to partial shade. At least 2-4 hours of direct sun daily.
  • Soil: Rich, hummus-y, well-draining soil is ideal. Soil pH between 5.5-7.5.
  • Moisture: Consistent even moisture is needed, not allowing soil to fully dry out.
  • Temperature: Thrives in cool weather, preferring temperatures around 60-70°F.
  • Wind protection: Shelter from strong winds helps stems remain upright.
  • Elevation: Naturalized across elevations up to 8,000 feet in mountainous regions.

Ensuring foxgloves receive adequate moisture, nutrients, partial sun exposure, and protection from wind supports lush, vigorous growth. Cooler temperatures also prolong their spring-to-summer bloom period.

How Does Foxglove’s Appearance Change Through Its Lifecycle?

Foxglove goes through distinct changes in form and appearance as it completes its biennial or short-lived perennial lifecycle:

First year: Forms a low basal rosette of large leaves up to 12 inches long. Remains in this juvenile form, developing strong roots.

Second year: Flower stalk bolts upright in late spring, reaching height of 2-5 feet for most varieties. Leaves alternate up stalks. Flowers begin blooming in succession from bottom to top of spike in early summer, lasting 4-6 weeks. Seeds mature by late summer.

Third year: After flower stalks fade and dry at end of second year, new basal growth may emerge and repeat bloom cycle. However, biennial types usually die after setting seed.

Beyond: Best treated as short-lived perennials, allowing new seedlings to replace old plants every few years. Can reseed prolifically if not deadheaded.

The drastic changes throughout foxglove’s seasons of growth showcase its range of forms, transitioning from a low rosette to tall, vertical spikes covered in showy bells.

Why is Foxglove Appearance So Unique and Recognizable?

Several distinctive traits give foxglove its iconic, recognizable look:

  • Tall, thick flower stalks rising like towers make a bold statement.
  • Nodding, bell-shaped blooms have an elegant, ornamental quality.
  • Dramatic, dense vertical spikes create a graceful floral column.
  • Pastel purple, pink, white or yellow colors are eye-catching against green foliage.
  • The speckled or spotted throat pattern adds intriguing detail.
  • Hairy, toothed leaves have a fuzzy, textural appeal.

Its commanding vertical presence, delicate bell flowers arranged densely on one side, and elegantly contrasting colors give foxglove a captivating ornamental quality unlike any other bloom. These features have made it a horticultural favorite.

How Can Foxglove’s Appearance Be an Asset in Gardens?

Foxglove brings unique aesthetic qualities to gardens and landscapes:

  • Provides vertical accent as a backdrop to lower plants.
  • Bell-shaped blooms add delicate whimsy and charm.
  • Colors complement pinks, purples, whites and cool greens.
  • Draws attention and lends focal emphasis to garden beds.
  • Gives a touch of wild, natural beauty to spaces.
  • Texture and height add dimensional, architectural interest.

The foxglove’s vertically-oriented yet delicate form makes it ideal for providing height and visual interest. The colors blend well with common garden hues while the details create intriguing depth. Foxglove can make a statement on its own while also combining well with other flowers and foliage.

What Maintenance Does Foxglove’s Appearance Require?

To look its best, foxglove requires:

  • Staking: Stems may need staking to prevent flopping, especially in overly shady or windy areas.
  • Grooming: Removing faded flower spikes improves appearance and tidiness.
  • Support: Sheltering from wind prevents damage to stems and flower spikes.
  • Division: Healthy plants can be divided every few years to rejuvenate.
  • Pruning: Cutting back old growth in late fall maintains vigor.
  • Weeding: Keep soil clear around plants to prevent crowding.
  • Watering: Adequate and even moisture prevents wilting and spotting of leaves.

With proper care, foxgloves will thrive and showcase their iconic beauty each season. Paying attention to their basic needs ensures happy, healthy plants.


With its statuesque yet delicate flowers in shades of purple, pink, white and more, foxglove has an iconic look beloved by many gardeners. Its oval fuzzy leaves, bell-shaped blooms festooned on vertical spikes, nodding habit, and biennial life cycle give this classic plant great visual appeal. Foxglove’s longstanding popularity is a testament to its timeless beauty and old-fashioned charm. This guide provides deeper insight into the details that define its distinctive ornamental elegance. Understanding foxglove’s looks and characteristics allows gardeners to appreciate the story behind its whimsical beauty.

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