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Common foxglove Digitalis purpurea

Named by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in his pivotal publication Species Plantarum in 1753, the generic name Digitalis comes from the Latin for finger (digitus), referring to the shape of the flowers whilst the specific epithet purpurea refers to the colour of the flowers, which are frequently purple.

Growing up to 2 m tall, with a downy covering of hair, the flowers are borne on a simple or sparsely branched raceme with un-stalked bracts; the upper bracts are sometimes minute. The pedicels (individual flower stalks) are 11–20 mm long and hairy. The corolla (petals) are purple to pale pink or white, 40–55 mm long, and are usually marked on the inside with dark purple spots edged with white.

Despite their toxicity, foxgloves have been widely used in folk-medicine. Foxglove tea (an infusion of the leaves) was taken for colds, fevers and catarrh, and compresses were used for ulcers, swellings and bruises. Its most common use was as a diuretic against dropsy (accumulation of fluid in the tissues), for which it was sometimes effective, but occasionally proved fatal. It is also a source of digitoxin, a glycoside used in the drug digitalis, which has been used as a heart stimulant since 1785.

Digitalis purpurea is the County Flower for West Midlands, Leicestershire, Argyll and Monmouthshire.

You can adopt a seed from this species for £250. Your donation will be used towards the work of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, ensuring this species is kept safe in the vaults forever, and to collect more species in the future.

In addition to receiving your adoption pack featuring your certificate and photograph of the species (this will be posted to you, or the recipient), you will be invited to the County Flower sponsor's event at the Millennium Seed Bank, Wakehurst where you can meet the staff and see the vaults where your species is stored.

If you have any questions, please contact Jill Taylor on 020 8332 3248 or j.taylor@kew.org.

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