Digitalis

Digitalis (pron.: /?d?d?te?l?s/ or /?d?d?t?l?s/) is a genus of about 20 species of herbaceous perennials, shrubs, and biennials commonly called foxgloves. This genus was traditionally placed in the figwort family Scrophulariaceae, but recent phylogenetic research has placed it in the much enlarged family Plantaginaceae. This genus is native to western and southwestern Europe, western and central Asia, Australasia and northwestern Africa. The scientific name means "finger-like" and refers to the ease with which a flower of Digitalis purpurea can be fitted over a human fingertip. The flowers are produced on a tall spike, are tubular, and vary in colour with species, from purple to pink, white, and yellow. The best-known species is the common foxglove, Digitalis purpurea. This biennial plant is often grown as an ornamental plant due to its vivid flowers which range in colour from various purple tints through various shades of light gray, and to purely white. The flowers can also possess various marks and spottings. The first year of growth of the common foxglove produces only the stem with its long, basal leaves. During the second year of the plant's life, a long, leafy stem from 50 to 255 centimeters tall grows atop the roots of healthy plants. The larvae of the insect the "foxglove pug" consume the flowers of the common foxglove for food. Other species of Lepidoptera eat the leaves, including lesser yellow underwing. The term digitalis is also used for drug preparations that contain cardiac glycosides, particularly one ca led digoxin, extracted from various plants of this genus. Many suggestions for the derivation of the name "foxglove" have been proffered. According to the 19th-century book, English Botany, Or, Coloured Figures of British Plants: Dr. Prior, whose authority is great in the origin of popular names, says "It seems probably that the name was in the first place, foxes' glew, or music, in reference to the favourite instrument of an earlier time, a ring of bells hung on an arched support, the tintinnabulum"... we cannot quite agree with Dr. Prior for it seems quite probable that the shape of the flowers suggested the idea of a glove, and that associated with the name of the botanist Fuchs, who first gave it a botanical name, may have been easily corrupted into foxglove. It happens, moreover, the name foxglove is a very ancient one and exists in a list of plants as old as the time of Edward III. The "folks" of our ancestors were the fairies and nothing is more likely than that the pretty coloured bells of the plant would be designated "folksgloves," afterwards, "foxglove." In Wales it is declared to be a favourite lurking-place of the fairies, who are said to occasion a snapping sound when children, holding one end of the digitalis bell, suddenly strike the other on the hand to hear the clap of fairy thunder, with which the indignant fairy makes her escape from her injured retreat. In south of Scotland it is called "bloody fingers" more northward, "deadman's bells" whilst in Wales it is known as "fairy-folks-fingers" or "lambs-tongue-leaves".