Foxglove Flower Meaning and Symbolism

The foxglove, or Digitalis purpurea, is a European native naturalized across North America and other temperate zones. This striking plant makes a strong statement in the landscape with its bright spikes of blooms. Foxglove also has a long, rich history, featuring prominently in folklore and traditional medicines. Here, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about Foxglove flower meaning and symbolism.

Symbolic Foxglove Flowers in bloom

Foxglove Flower Meaning – The Essentials

Foxglove flowers have held many symbolic meanings over the decades, both positive and negative. The flowers may be associated with insincerity, pride, intuition, creativity, and energy. In the Victorian language of flowers, a gift of foxgloves would carry the symbolic meaning of “I am ambitious for you, rather than for myself.”

Etymological Meaning

Digitalis — Latin digitus or “finger-like” — references the shape of the foxglove’s flowers, which are the right size to fit on a finger like a thimble.

The origins of “foxglove” aren’t quite as clear. In Europe, the plant was commonly known as “fairy’s gloves” or “fairy thimbles.” It was thought that the disturbed soil in which foxgloves prefer to grow was, perhaps, the territory of the little folk. Hence, some believe that the flowers were once called “folk’s glove,” which morphed into “foxglove” over time.

Foxglove Flower Meaning & Symbolism

Foxglove Flower Meaning & Symbolism

Common foxglove blooms in shades of pink, purple, and white, while other varieties have yellow, peach, orange, brown, and multi-colored blossoms.

In the language of flowers, the gift of foxglove symbolizes ambition. However, the flower means you’re telling someone, “I am not ambitious for myself, but I am ambitious for you.”

 The Cultural Significance of Foxglove Flowers

Foxglove flowers have long been associated with folklore about fairies and the little folk. Perhaps it’s because the blossoms are just the right size for a small finger to fit inside or because the ground where they like to grow was considered fairy territory. Other tales said that foxes wore the flowers as gloves to sneak silently into homes to steal food and raid chicken coops.

Several European cultural groups associated foxgloves with witchcraft and fairy lore. In Ireland, foxgloves were used to thwart an evil eye and break hexes.

Many children’s tales warn against picking foxglove flowers, saying it would offend the fairies. This was probably a tactic to scare children away from the poisonous but beautiful blossoms.

Some believed that the spots on some blossoms were fairy fingerprints. Other legends said the dew found on foxgloves could be collected and used to communicate with fairies. In Scandinavia, legend has it that fairies taught foxes how to warn each other of encroaching hunters by ringing foxglove bells.

The Cultural Significance of Foxglove Flowers

Roman myth links foxglove to the legend of Hera/Juno; Flora touches her belly with a foxglove, causing her to become pregnant. She then gave birth to Mars/Vulcan.

The artist Vincent Van Gogh is said to have used digitalis to treat his epilepsy. One side effect of taking digoxin, the drug made from digitalis, is a yellow haze across one’s vision. Some believe that Van Gogh’s “yellow period” is due to ingesting foxglove. The flowers are pictured in two portraits the artist made of his doctor, Paul Gachet, who’s holding foxgloves in both works.

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Foxglove Flowers

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Foxglove Flowers

As foxglove is extremely toxic, it shouldn’t be gifted if children or pets may access it. When safe, foxglove flowers add a dramatic element to bouquets and would be a beautiful addition to wedding arrangements or seasonal spring floral gifts.

Foxglove Flower FAQs: 

Are foxglove flowers poisonous to humans?

Foxgloves are poisonous to humans, dogs, cats, and horses. All parts of the plant contain toxins that are used to manufacture heart medication but can be toxic or even deadly when ingested.

Do foxgloves grow back every year?

Foxgloves are biennials, which means they grow foliage in their first year and flower in their second year before dying. Under certain growing conditions, foxgloves may return to bloom for a third or fourth time.

When do foxglove flowers bloom?

Foxgloves bloom in late spring and early summer.

Do foxgloves spread?

Foxgloves tend to multiply and spread under the right growing conditions. It’s considered invasive in some western U.S. states.

What fragrance do foxglove flowers have?

Foxglove flowers have very little fragrance. Rather, they’re prized for their large, colorful spikes of tubular blossoms.

Wrap-up

Beautiful yet potentially deadly, the foxglove adds a dramatic spike of color to the landscape. As a source of digitalis, the flowers have long been cultivated for their medicinal uses. They’ve also played a role in folklore, having long associations with fairies and the little folk in European mythology. Today, foxgloves are prized for their tall racemes of tubular blossoms. In the language of flowers, they represent ambition for others.

Contributing Editor | linsay@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.

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