Spontaneous foxglove mutation: Digitalis purpurea ‘Monstrosa’

For two years, Digitalis purpurea ‘Monstrosa’ is a peloric foxglove that appeared within a self-sown patch in my garden.

Let’s see what pelorism is.

Peloria derives from both new Latin and from the Greek word pelōros, meaning “monstrous”. Pelorism in Digitalis refers to the occurrence of flowers with radial symmetry instead of the typical bilateral symmetry. It is a genetic variation that can result in visually distinct and unique floral forms within the Digitalis genus.

Digitalis plants, including the common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), typically produce flowers with a tubular shape and a distinctive bilateral symmetry. The flowers have a lower lip with a pronounced lower lobe and an upper lip that is divided into two lobes. This bilateral symmetry is commonly observed in many other plant species as well.

However, in some instances, Digitalis flowers may exhibit pelorism, causing them to develop radial symmetry instead. This means that the flowers display multiple petals arranged symmetrically around a central point, resembling a more regular and uniform shape. The radial symmetry can occur throughout the flower or be limited to specific parts, such as the corolla or the reproductive structures.

The peloric forms of foxgloves can be intriguing and visually striking, often attracting attention and interest from plant enthusiasts and researchers. It can result from changes in the expression or activity of certain genes involved in flower development. Peloric Digitalis flowers are relatively rare but have been observed and documented in many instances. They serve as examples of the fascinating diversity and complexity that can arise within plant populations due to genetic variations and mutations.

Imagine a patch of common foxgloves. At first glance, it appears like all are typical foxgloves with their usual flowers. But then, something unexpected happens to one plant when the top flower opens up. You can’t help but be surprised and say, “Wait, what?!”

My peloric flowers appeared exactly like this at the apex on a self-sown foxglove in my woody borders. After researching the phenomena, I learned that indeed the terminal flower more frequently develops peloric features than lateral flowers and this has had been put down to terminal buds having a greater supply of sap.

The bloom that unfolds is extraordinary. It is much larger than the usual flowers, measuring about 3 inches across, and it takes the form of a bowl. The beauty lies in its intricate and elaborate markings. The predominant color is orchid-pink, though occasionally you may find white blooms like mine which are whitish with burgundy markings. These flowers are definitely not your average foxgloves! They stand out with their unique appearance.

I showcased a stem of this uncommon foxglove in one of the three arrangements I crafted for the 2022 annual show of the Quebec Peony Society. It captured the attention of my horticulturist friends, sparking conversations that focused more on it than the arrangement it belonged to!

The fascinating aspect of this peculiar Digitalis plant is its ability to reproduce faithfully, as evidenced by its self-sowing last summer. The new plants inherit and maintain the same extraordinary characteristics as the parent plant, resulting in not just one but three plants with inflorescences worthy of close observation. I eagerly anticipate the continued display of these remarkable blooms this year. Witnessing this process is truly captivating!

Previous post

Celebrating the beauty of red peonies: A Valentine's Day special

Next post

6 landscaping inspirations from local gardens