In parts of Minnesota a toxic herbaceous plant, Grecian foxglove (Digitalis lanata) has become invasive. Native to central and southern Europe, it has been found growing in roadsides, residential yards, grasslands, and forest margins along the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers. Grecian foxglove contains compounds used in cardiac medicines, yet it is also poisonous to humans, livestock, and wildlife, and is a threat to the residents of Minnesota.
Grecian foxglove is a perennial plant, forming a basal rosette in its first year and flowers in its second and subsequent years. The basal rosette has dark green, simple, alternate, and oblong shaped leaves with a pointed tip; leaves on the second year plant are sessile (no stalks) and up to six inches long.
The plant produces creamy white, tubular flowers with purple venation on a stem two to five feet tall. Both the flowering stems and undersides of the leaves have woolly hairs.
Grecian foxglove may have a lookalike. Garden foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is a commonly used landscape plant, but it typically has purple or pink flowers and has not been reported invasive in Minnesota.
Minnesota is one of few states with confirmed Grecian foxglove infestations. In 2011, it was placed on the Minnesota Noxious Weed Eradicate List and has been reported in Washington, Dakota, and Wabasha counties.
It displaces forage and native vegetation, and both fresh and dried plant parts are toxic. The greatest concern is the potentially lethal threat of human and livestock poisoning. The leafy rosettes of Grecian foxglove could be mistaken for lettuce or other leafy greens, and were found growing in a homeowner’s vegetable garden.
Grecian foxglove requires careful handling. Because all plant parts are toxic, gloves and protective gear must be worn when working among the plants in an infested area.
To report infestations of Grecian foxglove or any other noxious weeds on the eradicate list, please notify MDA by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 651-201-6684 (metro) or 1-888-545-6684 (toll-free).
See the Grecian foxglove web page for more detailed information.