Foxgloves. Dramatic tall spikes of plants coated with tubular flowers with spotty lips. Exotic plants my mother loved to have in the garden. Plants I loved for their height and proliferation of flowers. Unfortunately now I have learnt these plants, especially the purple flowering Digitalis Purpurea variety, are self-seeding broadly across the Tasmanian wilderness environment to the exclusion of native species. And they are toxic.
On a road trip out west on the road to Lake Pedder at the end of last year, I passed stands of flowering foxglove by the road side, ‘in the middle of nowhere’. I remember thinking they were out of control and out of place. The foxgloves were growing where forests had been subjected to massive bushfires, leaving open country and soil exposed.
A couple of months ago a new plant emerged from the soil in my bottom garden. What was it? I left it to grow in order to make an identification. When the stalks grew taller and the flowers finally opened, clearly self-seeded foxglove plants had arrived. Stunningly beautiful. Where had the seed blown in from, or where had a bee picked up a seed? I had no idea. During my walks along suburban streets in my neighbourhood I had not seen another foxglove so was curious. Then one morning I was invited into a stranger’s garden many blocks from my house, although about 200 or 300 metres ‘as the crow flies’ from my garden bed. And there, behind a hedge not visible from the street, grew an identical foxglove to that in my garden. The mystery was solved.
You can read the history of the introduction of this flowering plant to Australia and the full details of its nature and ability to spread here. Here is an excerpt:
Foxglove flourishes in a wide variety of conditions, from open and sunny through to damp, shady places, especially in disturbed soil. It’s even spreading in sand dunes on the other side of Macquarie Harbour at Pilots Beach. Tasmania’s acidic soils provide ideal conditions for its growth. It reproduces from seed, is readily cross-pollinated by bumblebees (NOTE these were introduced to Tasmania in the 1990s), spreads easily by wind, water, garden waste and transport by vehicle and machinery movement. Its leaves, flowers and seeds contain the cardiac glycoside digitoxin, which can be absorbed through the skin and is extremely poisonous.
Jim Godfrey is leading the charge to have foxgloves declared an invasive weed. You can support the push by joining a new Tasmanian Foxglove Facebook page here.
If you are a Tasmanian resident you can sign the petition to have foxgloves listed a declared weed. Go here.
An in-depth story about Jim Godfrey’s campaign will be published in the next edition of the Feral Herald, which you will be able to read if you sign up here.
The Fern Tree Community [situated on the edge of kunyani (Mount Wellington)] offered their advice:
Dear neighbours, Most of us are struggling to keep foxglove at bay. There is a trick to managing it so you don’t set yourself back.
- Don’t disturb too much soil. With a trowel or old knife, cut the core root out of the ground. You can slice off the smaller roots to reduce soil disturbance.
- If the core root breaks off or if you brush cut, it will grow back with lots of flower stalks instead of just the one.
- Knock the soil off the roots and leave the plant high and dry. If it’s on the ground it won’t dry out and won’t die.
- Strip off the flower buds with a quick upwards swipe. If they are advanced (ie January) the flower stalk needs to go in the bin.
- Any bare or disturbed ground is likely to regrow with foxglove seedlings.
- The benefit of hindsight; it’s much easier to control foxglove in winter or spring when they are much smaller, you don’t have millions of live seeds, and because we’re all so busy in the summer time.
- Start in the areas of light infestation. Don’t start in the thickest patch.
Foxglove is not yet a Declared weed. However it is possibly the fastest-moving environmental weed in Tasmania. Of course you may help if you have one or more in your garden and choose to remove the plants. The following tips should be useful.
- The best time to remove foxglove is in winter or spring, before the flowers develop and spread millions of viable seed.
- Disturb the soil as little as possible when pulling out foxglove.
- You could use a sharp trowel or knife to sever the fine roots to minimise soil disturbance. Be sure to strip or remove the flower stalk, and, if seeds are mature, bin it. A plant may have up to a million tiny seeds ready to spread –so be careful.
- Be sure to strip or remove the flower stalk, and, if seeds are mature, bin it.
- Hot salt water poured over the plants should kill if you have only a few plants.
I was glad to read details of the dangers of foxgloves for our environment and how to be careful when removing plants from the ground. Mine are now out and trashed – not composting.