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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

The foxglove is a biennial plant, but more rarely occurs as a perennial. The flowers are present from June to September (5) and are pollinated by bumble-bees (2). Plants produce prolific amounts of seed, and have a persistent seed bank; features which help to maintain the range of this species (3). Although toxic, the foxglove has been widely used in folk medicine as a cure for sore throats, as compresses for bruising and ulcers, and as a diuretic; it was, however, often fatal. The 18th Century Scottish physician William Withering made the first scientific investigation into the use of the plant. This study marked the development of modern pharmacology, and its move away from herbal medicine. He discovered that the plant contained a powerful cardio-active agent, which slowed and strengthened the heart rate, and stimulated the kidneys to clear excess fluid from the body (4). The therapeutic dose was however, very close to a lethal dose, and Withering recommended the use of repeated very small, carefully measured amounts until a therapeutic effect was attained (6). The active agents in foxglove, known as digitoxin and digoxin are still used in modern medicine to control heart rate (4). During the Second World War, foxglove leaves were collected by County Herb Committees, in order to make these drugs (4).
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Description

The foxglove is a familiar tall herb that produces 20-80 nodding flowers on a long spike, known as a raceme (2). The tube-like flowers are pinkish-purple in colour, with an area of white inside the tube, which features darker purple spots and a few hairs. More rarely, white flowers may appear (2). The greyish stem is woolly, and the green, oval or lance-shaped leaves have downy upper surfaces, but are woolly below (2). The common name derives from the Anglo-Saxon 'foxes glofa' meaning foxes gloves, and refers to the tubular flowers, which are suggestive of the gloves of a small animal. The flowers were also known as 'witches' thimbles' by Medieval herbalists (4).
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Comprehensive Description

Description

Usually biennial herb to c.1 m. Stems simple, erect. Leaves with a winged petiole. Flowers numerous, arranged in a raceme, pendent. Corolla 4-5 cm, usually pinkish-purple with deeper purple spots on a white background inside the lower part of the tube. Capsule ovoid.
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Derivation of specific name

purpurea: purple
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Miscellaneous Details

"Notes: Western Ghats, Evergreen Forests, Cultivated / Escape, Native of Mediterranean Region"
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Distribution

Worldwide distribution

Western Europe, from Norway south to Spain, and N Africa.
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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

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"Tamil Nadu: Dindigul, Nilgiri"
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Range

Very widespread throughout Britain, and common as a garden plant; garden escapes have spread the species widely beyond its native range (3). It also occurs in western and south western Europe (2).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

Annuals or perennials, 60-120 cm tall, gray-white pubescent and glandular hairy except for corolla and sometimes for subglabrous stems. Stems 1 or few and cespitose. Basal leaves mostly rosulate; petiole narrowly winged, to 15 cm; leaf blade ovate to oblong-elliptic, 5-15 cm, base tapering, margin crenate and rarely serrate, apex acuminate to obtuse. Stem leaves simi-lar to basal leaves, decreasing in size upward, sessile or short petiolate and forming bracts. Calyx campanulate, ca. 1 cm; segments free, oblong-ovate. Corolla purple to white, 3-4.5 cm, inside spotted, lobe apex white pubescent. Capsule ca. 1.5 cm. Seeds clavate, puberulent. Fl. May-Jun.
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Diagnostic Description

Diagnostic

Habit: Herb
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Ecology

Habitat

This species thrives in acidic soils in a range of habitats including open woods, woodland clearings, on moorland and heath margins, hedge banks, sea-cliffs, waste land, rocky mountain slopes and hedgebanks. It is common in disturbed sites, or on burnt ground (3).
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Habitat & Distribution

Native to Europe but sometimes naturalized in disturbed areas; low elevations. Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Sichuan, Zhejiang [Europe].
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Associations

Foodplant / spot causer
few, immersed pycnidium of Ascochyta coelomycetous anamorph of Ascochyta moelleriana causes spots on live leaf of Digitalis purpurea

Foodplant / parasite
acervulus of Colletotrichum coelomycetous anamorph of Colletotrichum fuscum parasitises live, evenutally yellowish then brown leaf (esp basal) of Digitalis purpurea
Remarks: season: 10-11

Plant / associate
nymph of Dicyphus pallicornis is associated with live Digitalis purpurea
Remarks: season: 6,8-9

Foodplant / saprobe
fruitbody of Erythricium laetum is saprobic on dead stem of Digitalis purpurea

Foodplant / feeds on
larva of Napomyza scrophulariae feeds on Digitalis purpurea
Other: major host/prey

In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Foodplant / parasite
sporangium of Peronospora digitalis parasitises live Digitalis purpurea

Foodplant / saprobe
erumpent pycnidium of Phomopsis coelomycetous anamorph of Phomopsis digitalis is saprobic on dead stem of Digitalis purpurea
Remarks: season: 3

Foodplant / spot causer
pycnidium of Phyllosticta coelomycetous anamorph of Phyllosticta digitalis causes spots on leaf of Digitalis purpurea
Remarks: season: 8

Foodplant / saprobe
apothecium of Pyrenopeziza digitalina is saprobic on dead stem (near base) of Digitalis purpurea
Remarks: season: 4-7

Foodplant / spot causer
colony of Ramularia anamorph of Ramularia variabilis causes spots on live leaf of Digitalis purpurea

Foodplant / spot causer
minute, scattered pycnidium of Septoria coelomycetous anamorph of Septoria digitalis causes spots on dying stem of Digitalis purpurea
Remarks: season: 7

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Population Biology

Frequency

Rare as an escape
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Digitalis purpurea

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Digitalis purpurea

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 9
Specimens with Barcodes: 16
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: GNR - Not Yet Ranked

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Status

Widespread and common (3).
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Threats

This species is not threatened.
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Management

These species are introduced in Switzerland.
  • Aeschimann, D. & C. Heitz. 2005. Synonymie-Index der Schweizer Flora und der angrenzenden Gebiete (SISF). 2te Auflage. Documenta Floristicae Helvetiae N° 2. Genève.   http://www.crsf.ch/ External link.
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Conservation

Not relevant.
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Wikipedia

Digitalis purpurea

This article is about the flowering plant. For the band, see Digitalis Purpurea (band).

Digitalis purpurea (foxglove, common foxglove, purple foxglove or lady's glove), is a species of flowering plant in the genus Digitalis, in the family Scrophulariaceae, native and widespread throughout most of temperate Europe. It is also naturalised in parts of North America and some other temperate regions. The plants are well known as the original source of the heart medicine digoxin, (also called digitalis or digitalin).

Description[edit]

Digitalis purpurea is an herbaceous biennial or short-lived perennial plant. The leaves are spirally arranged, simple, 10–35 cm long and 5–12 cm broad, and are covered with gray-white pubescent and glandular hairs, imparting a woolly texture. The foliage forms a tight rosette at ground level in the first year.

The flowering stem develops in the second year, typically 1 to 2 m tall, sometimes longer. The flowers are arranged in a showy, terminal, elongated cluster, and each flower is tubular and pendent. The flowers are typically purple, but some plants, especially those under cultivation, may be pink, rose, yellow, or white. The inside surface of the flower tube is heavily spotted. The flowering period is early summer, sometimes with additional flower stems developing later in the season. The plant is frequented by bees, which climb right inside the flower tube to gain the nectar within.

The fruit is a capsule which splits open at maturity to release the numerous tiny (0.1-0.2 mm) seeds.

Subspecies[edit]

The three subspecies of Digitalis purpurea are:

  • D. p. subsp. purpurea – most of Europe
  • D. p. subsp. heywoodii – Iberia
  • D. p. subsp. mariana – Iberia

Hybrids[edit]

Toxicity[edit]

Due to the presence of the cardiac glycoside digitoxin, the leaves, flowers and seeds of this plant are all poisonous to humans and some animals and can be fatal if eaten.

Extracted from the leaves, this same compound, whose clinical use was pioneered as digitalis by William Withering, is used as a medication for heart failure. He recognized it "reduced dropsy", increased urine flow and had a powerful effect on the heart. Unlike the purified pharmacological forms, extracts of this plant did not frequently cause intoxication because they induced nausea and vomiting within minutes of ingestion, preventing the patient from consuming more.

The main toxins in Digitalis spp. are the two chemically similar cardiac glycosides: digitoxin and digoxin. Like other cardiac glycosides, these toxins exert their effects by inhibiting the ATPase activity of a complex of transmembrane proteins that form the sodium potassium ATPase pump, (Na+/K+-ATPase). Inhibition of the Na+/K+-ATPase in turn causes a rise not only in intracellular Na+, but also in calcium, which in turn results in increased force of myocardial muscle contractions. In other words, at precisely the right dosage, Digitalis toxin can cause the heart to beat more strongly. However, digitoxin, digoxin and several other cardiac glycosides, such as ouabain, are known to have steep dose-response curves, i.e. minute increases in the dosage of these drugs can make the difference between an ineffective dose and a fatal one.

Symptoms of Digitalis poisoning include a low pulse rate, nausea, vomiting, and uncoordinated contractions of different parts of the heart, leading to cardiac arrest and finally death.

Cultivation[edit]

The plant is popular as a garden subject, and numerous cultivars have been developed with a range of colours from white through pink to purple, such as 'Dalmatian Purple'. Cultivated forms often show flowers completely surrounding the central spike, in contrast to the wild form, where the flowers only appear on one side. D. purpurea is easily grown from seed or purchased as potted plants in the spring. The following selections have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:-

Digitalis purpurea is hardy to zones 4-9.[5]

Uses[edit]

Digoxigenin (DIG) is a steroid found exclusively in the flowers and leaves of the plants Digitalis purpurea and Digitalis lanata. It is used as a molecular probe to detect DNA or RNA. It can easily be attached to nucleotides by chemical modifications. DIG molecules are often linked to uridine nucleotides; DIG-labeled uridine (DIG-U) can then be incorporated into RNA probes via in vitro transcription. Once hybridisation occurs in situ, RNA probes with the incorporated DIG-U can be detected with anti-DIG antibodies conjugated to alkaline phosphatase. To reveal the hybridised transcripts, alkaline phosphatase can be reacted with a chromogen to produce a coloured precipitate.

In literature and music[edit]

This plant inspired a famous poem by the Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli titled "Digitale Purpurea". It also inspired the Italian industrial metal band Digitalis Purpurea.

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Olmstead, R. G., dePamphilis, C. W., Wolfe, A. D., Young, N. D., Elisons, W. J. & Reeves P. A. (2001). "Disintegration of the Scrophulariaceae". American Journal of Botany (American Journal of Botany, Vol. 88, No. 2) 88 (2): 348–361. doi:10.2307/2657024. JSTOR 2657024. PMID 11222255. 
  2. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Digitalis purpurea 'The Shirley'". Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  3. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Digitalis purpurea 'Excelsior Group'". Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  4. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Digitalis purpurea f. alba". Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  5. ^ Perennials.com: Digitalis purpurea ‘Dalmatian Purple’

Bibliography[edit]

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