Grecian foxglove (Digitalis lanata)

Grecian foxglove flowers.

 
 

Grecian foxglove is a perennial plant that can grow to five feet tall and has tubular, cream colored flowers. Grecian foxglove is toxic to humans and animals. In Minnesota, Grecian foxglove is a prohibited noxious weed on the eradicate list so any plants found must be killed.

Caution: Grecian foxglove contains toxic chemicals that can kill humans and animals if eaten. Dried Grecian foxglove in hay is also toxic. The chemicals can also be absorbed through the skin so wear long sleeves, gloves, and cover skin when pulling plants. If you need to burn an area with Grecian foxglove, consult with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture prior to the burn as burning the plants may also release the chemicals that may then harm people or animals breathing the smoke.

Description

Appearance

Grecian foxglove is a perennial herbaceous plant. In its first year it is a group of leaves close to the ground (rosette). In its second year and following years it puts up flowering stalks that are 2-5 feet tall. Grecian foxglove has tubular, cream colored flowers.

Leaves and Stem

In its first year, Grecian foxglove plants are a rosette of dark green, spear shaped leaves growing close to the ground. White hairs are visible along the lower edges of the leaves. In its second year, Grecian foxglove sends up flowering stalks. Leaves along the stalk are alternate (come off the stem one at time at each leaf node) and can be up to six inches long. They have smooth edges, have veins that are parallel to one another, and have a point at the tip

Flowers

Grecian foxglove flowers are tubular and cream colored with maroon veins. Flowers and the green leaf-like sepals (small leaf like growths) below the flower are covered in fine, white hairs. Flowers bloom in June.

Seeds

Grecian foxglove seeds are in seedpods that look somewhat like an open bird beak when they open. Seedpods have small hooks which attach easily to fur and clothes, helping to disperse the seeds.

Roots

Grecian foxglove has a taproot.

Biology

Grecian foxglove is a perennial plant. In its first year it is a rosette of leaves close to the ground. In its second and future years it puts up flowering stalks. Plants can grow up to five feet tall. Grecian foxglove reproduces and spreads by seeds. Grecian foxglove grows in open areas such as roadsides, yards, grasslands, prairies, savannas, and forest edges.

Origin and Spread

Grecian foxglove is native to Europe. It was introduced to the United States as an ornamental plant and the plants spread from where they were planted. Grecian foxglove has a limited distribution in the United States with states in the northeastern United States generally having few counties with it present. In Minnesota, Grecian foxglove is an early detection species that has very limited distribution in the state.
Refer to EDDMapS Distribution Maps for current distribution.

Don't be fooled by these look-alikes

  • Large flowered or showy beard tongue Penstemon grandiflorus (native), slender beard tongue, Penstemon gracilis (native) and other native beard tongue (Penstemon) species – many native beard tongue species have tubular white flowers, but all beard tongue species have opposite leaves (two leaves come off the stem at the same place opposite one another) while Grecian foxglove leaves are alternate (leaves come off the stem one at a time).
  • Purple foxglove also known as common or garden foxglove, Digitalis purpurea (non-native) – has purple to white flowers and does not have white hairs on the flowers as Grecian foxglove has. Purple foxglove leaves are wider and more rounded than Grecian foxglove. Purple foxglove is a garden plant and has not been reported as invasive in Minnesota, but if you observe it growing outside of where it has been planted, please report it. Like Grecian foxglove, purple foxglove can be fatal to humans and animals if eaten.
  • Common mullein, Verbascum thapsus (invasive) – has yellow flowers and very fuzzy leaves and stems. Common mullein can look similar to Grecian foxglove in that they both have tall, straight flowering stalks with seed heads that persist into the winter.
 
Regulatory Classification

Grecian foxglove is a Minnesota Department of Agriculture Prohibited Noxious Weed on the Eradicate List meaning that the above and belowground parts of the plant must be destroyed. Additionally no transportation, propagation, or sale is allowed.

Threat to Minnesota
  • Grecian foxglove contains toxic chemicals that can kill humans and animals if eaten. Dried Grecian foxglove in hay is also toxic. The chemicals can also be absorbed if pulling plants with bare hands so wear long sleeves, gloves, and cover skin when pulling plants. If you need to burn an area with Grecian foxglove, consult with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture prior to the burn as burning the plants may also release the chemicals that may harm people or animals breathing the smoke.
  • It overtakes habitat and outcompetes native plants, potentially lowering diversity.
What you should do

One way that invasive plant seeds and fragments can spread is in soil. Sometimes plants are planted purposefully. You can prevent the spread of invasive plants.

PlayCleanGo: Stop Invasive Species in Your Tracks

  • REMOVE plants, animals & mud from boots, gear, pets & vehicle.
  • CLEAN your gear before entering & leaving the recreation site.
  • STAY on designated roads & trails.
  • PLANT non-invasive species.
Native Substitutes
 
Control Methods

Mechanical control is not recommended due to Grecian foxglove toxicity to people and plant disposal issues. Grecian foxglove contains toxic chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin, so wear long sleeves, gloves, and cover skin if you hand pull plants or use a shovel to remove plants. Follow Minnesota Department of Agriculture guidance on plant disposal.

Repeated mowing from May to July may prevent plants from flowering, but short plants can still produce flowers and seeds. Follow up with herbicide will likely be necessary. Do not mow if plants have seeds as mowing will spread the seeds.

Burning is not known to be an effective control method for Grecian foxglove. If you need to burn an area with Grecian foxglove, consult with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture prior to the burn as burning the plants may also release the chemicals that may harm people or animals breathing the smoke.

Herbicide control can be done using systemic herbicides which are taken up by plants and move within the plant, which can kill leaves, stems, and roots. Spot spray with herbicide containing glyphosate or metsulfuron-methyl. Apply herbicides in May and then do a second application in July to prevent plants from flowering. From August to November, apply herbicides to the first year rosettes of leaves that developed over the summer or that were missed in the spring.

Reporting

Report new occurrences by submitting a report through EDDMapS Midwest, emailing Arrest The Pest, calling Arrest the Pest (1-888-545-6684), or contacting your local county agricultural inspector.

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