Grecian foxglove (Digitalis lanata) is a beautiful but toxic invasive plant. It was brought to North America from its native Europe as an ornamental plant.
Grecian foxglove thrives in sunny to partially shaded areas and has been found in Washington County, Minnesota. All plant parts are toxic, alive or dried, necessitating careful handling with protective clothing and equipment. This is a threat to humans and other animals.
Additionally, Grecian foxglove overtakes and unbalances the ecosystems where it takes root. Grecian foxglove is a perennial plant that forms a rosette. Then it sends up a flowering stem its second and subsequent years.
The flowering stems are two to five feet tall. Its leaves are oblong-shaped with pointed tips and are simple and alternately placed on the stem. Flower color ranges from white to faint yellow with brownish-purple venation inside.
Some of the ways Grecian foxglove can be distinguished from its look alike, common or garden foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), is that Grecian Foxglove has woolly hairs located on the stems and sepals, green petals that surround and protect the flower bud, and garden foxglove’s flowers display a much wider color spectrum.
Grecian Foxglove synthesizes cardiotoxic glycosides. These toxic compounds impact cardiovascular, neurological and gastrointestinal systems after ingestion or absorption through skin. Poisoning symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, lethargy, abdominal pain, strange dreams, arrhythmias and changes in vision.
If you suspect foxglove poisoning, call Minnesota Poison Control System at 1-800-222-1222. Call 911 if immediate help is needed.
These toxic compounds can be deadly, but when extracted and used properly, it can be used as a pharmaceutical. They can be highly beneficial in treating cardiac arrhythmia, a condition that causes the heart to beat irregularly.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), Washington Conservation District, Conservation Corps of Minnesota (CCM), University of Minnesota Extension Service, Belwin Conservancy, private landowners and contractors are working together to find and eliminate Grecian foxglove in Minnesota. The MDA’s, CCM’s and Extensions’ efforts are supported by Environment and Natural Resources Trust funds as recommended by the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources.
Grecian foxglove is a prohibited: eradicate weed on the Minnesota noxious weed list.
If you suspect that you have found Grecian Foxglove, please take pictures of the plant, note the exact location and report to Arrest the Pest at arrest.the.pest @state.mn.us.
– Annika Bollesen is a Conservation Corps of Minnesota alumna
– Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture