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Fairy Foxglove

Erinus alpinus

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Plantaginaceae (Plantain)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
20 centimetres tall
Cliffs, fields, gardens, hedgerows, meadows, mountains, roadsides, rocky places, walls, wasteland, woodland.

Purple, 5 petals
The flowers of the Fairy Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) possess an enchanting and distinctive appearance. The blooms of Fairy Foxglove are composed of tubular, bell-shaped flowers that come in an array of captivating colours, such as pink, purple, and occasionally white or yellow. Each individual flower displays pronounced speckles or spotting on the inner surface of the petals. The tubular shape of the flower features a narrow opening that widens into a bell-like structure, with a slightly flared rim. These flowers are arranged in tall, slender spikes that rise from the plant's basal rosette of leaves, creating a striking vertical display. The blossoms, when fully open, reveal their intricate markings and alluring hues, attracting pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds with their nectar-rich reservoirs. The flowers are known for their delicate and elegant appearance, adding a touch of natural charm to woodland edges, meadows, gardens, and various other habitats where the Fairy Foxglove thrives.
The fruit of the Fairy Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is a capsule that develops after the flowering period. These capsules, often referred to as seed pods or fruits, contain numerous small, dark-coloured seeds. The capsule is dry and typically oval-shaped, and it splits open when mature, releasing the seeds. Within each capsule, the tiny seeds are arranged in an orderly manner. They are dark brown and fairly small, measuring a few millimetres in size. The dispersal of these seeds is an essential part of the plant's life cycle, as they are shed and scattered, promoting the propagation of Fairy Foxglove in its surrounding environment. The capsules of Fairy Foxglove are a vital stage in the reproductive process, enabling the plant to spread and establish itself in various habitats, contributing to its self-seeding characteristic and the perpetuation of its presence in different landscapes.
The leaves of the Fairy Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) are distinctive and play a significant role in the plant's growth and appearance. The leaves of the Fairy Foxglove are predominantly basal, forming a rosette during the first year of the plant's growth. These leaves are lance-shaped or ovate with prominent veining. They have a slightly toothed or serrated edge, giving them a textured and slightly rugged appearance. The leaves are arranged in a spiral pattern, emerging from the base of the plant in a dense cluster. As the plant matures, a central stalk grows, supporting the flowering stem, while the basal leaves remain close to the ground. The leaves are typically deep green in colour and possess a slightly fuzzy or hairy texture on the surface. These foliage characteristics aid the plant in its initial growth phase, providing photosynthetic surface area and contributing to the overall visual appeal of the Fairy Foxglove. While primarily serving in the plant's vegetative phase, the leaves gradually decline as the plant completes its flowering and seeding cycle, contributing nutrients to the reproductive process before the plant completes its life cycle.
Fairy Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) does not typically possess a strong fragrance. The flowers of this plant are generally not known for emitting a distinct or noticeable scent. They are appreciated more for their visual appeal and the attractant they provide to pollinators rather than for any significant aroma. While some individuals might detect a mild, subtle, or sweet scent from the flowers upon close inspection, it is not a prominent feature of the plant. Overall, the Fairy Foxglove is primarily admired for its visual allure and ornamental value rather than for any significant fragrance.
Other Names:
Alpine Balsam, Alpine Edelweiss, Alpine Forget-me-not, Erinus, Fairy Thimbles, Jewel Flower, Liver Balsam, Starflower.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Other Information


Erinus alpinus, commonly known as alpine forget-me-not or alpine edelweiss, is a small, perennial flowering plant that is native to the mountains of central and southern Europe. It is a member of the Boraginaceae family, which also includes other species of forget-me-nots.

The plant has a low-growing habit and produces small, star-shaped flowers that are typically blue or white, but can also be pink or violet. The flowers bloom in the spring and early summer and are borne on short stems that rise above the foliage. The leaves are small, glossy and green and are evergreen in mild climates.

Alpine forget-me-nots are popular rock garden plants, due to its small size, attractive flowers and evergreen leaves. They are also good groundcover plants, as well as good companion plants for other small alpine or rock-garden plants. They are hardy and can tolerate cold temperatures and dry conditions, but prefer well-drained soil. They will grow in full sun or part shade and can spread by creeping rhizomes.

Erinus alpinus is easy to propagate by seed or by division. It is also possible to grow them from stem cuttings, taken in late spring or early summer and rooted in a mixture of sand and peat moss.

Erinus alpinus is also a good choice for butterfly and bee gardens, as the flowers are attractive to a wide range of pollinators.


Fairy Foxgloves, or Erinus alpinus, are a delightful and charming plant species that are native to the mountains of Europe and Asia. These tiny plants are members of the Plantaginaceae family and are often called Alpine Balsam due to their delicate, balsam-like flowers.


Fairy Foxgloves are low-growing, mat-forming plants that grow to a height of only 5-10 cm. They have small, round leaves that are a vibrant green color and are covered in fine hairs. The flowers of the Fairy Foxglove are the most striking feature of the plant, with small, trumpet-shaped blooms that are usually pink or white in color. The flowers bloom in late spring and early summer and are held on short stalks just above the foliage.

Habitat and Cultivation

Fairy Foxgloves are often found growing in rocky or gravelly soil in alpine and sub-alpine areas. They are well adapted to harsh mountain environments and are often seen growing in crevices or cracks in rock faces. In cultivation, they prefer well-draining soil and full sun to partial shade. They are often used in rock gardens or as a groundcover in alpine or wildflower gardens.

Cultural Significance

Fairy Foxgloves have long been associated with magic and folklore, with many cultures believing that they possess magical properties. In traditional European folk medicine, the plant was used as a remedy for a variety of ailments, including coughs, sore throats, and fevers. In some cultures, the plant was also used as a charm to ward off evil spirits.

Conservation Status

Fairy Foxgloves are not considered endangered, but their habitat is threatened by climate change, habitat destruction, and overcollection. In some areas, they are also threatened by the introduction of non-native plant species.

In conclusion, Fairy Foxgloves are a charming and delicate plant species that add a touch of magic to any garden. Their beauty and cultural significance make them a valuable addition to any alpine or wildflower garden, and their adaptability makes them a good choice for gardeners looking to add some color to rocky or difficult-to-grow areas. However, it is important to be mindful of their conservation status and to take steps to protect their natural habitat.

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Fairy Foxgloves are often grown for their ornamental value and are prized for their beautiful, delicate flowers. They are a popular choice for rock gardens, alpine gardens, and wildflower gardens and are also used as a ground cover or edging plant. They are easy to grow and maintain, making them a good choice for novice gardeners.

Fairy Foxgloves can be propagated from seeds or cuttings. Seeds can be sown in early spring or autumn and require a well-draining soil mix. The seeds should be covered lightly with soil and kept moist until germination. Cuttings can be taken in early summer, and should be taken from healthy, non-flowering shoots. The cuttings should be rooted in a well-draining soil mix and kept moist until they have established roots.

Fairy Foxgloves are known to attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies to the garden, making them a valuable addition to any garden ecosystem. They are also deer resistant, making them a good choice for gardens in areas where deer are a problem.

In terms of plant care, Fairy Foxgloves require little maintenance. They should be watered regularly, especially during periods of drought, but care should be taken not to overwater as this can lead to root rot. They should be fertilized once a year with a general-purpose fertilizer, and any dead or diseased foliage should be removed regularly to maintain the health of the plant.

There are several cultivars of Fairy Foxgloves available in the market that offer different flower colors and foliage variations. Some popular cultivars include 'Roseus', which features rose-pink flowers, 'Snow Clad', which has pure white flowers, and 'Nana', which is a dwarf form with bright green leaves and pink flowers.

Fairy Foxgloves can also be used in a variety of landscaping designs. They can be used as a border plant, as a ground cover, or as a filler plant in rock gardens. They can also be used in container gardens or as a potted plant for indoor decoration. In addition, they make a great companion plant for other alpine plants such as sedums, saxifrages, and alpine phlox.

It's important to note that Fairy Foxgloves are toxic if ingested, so they should be planted in an area where children and pets cannot reach them. It's also important to wear gloves when handling the plant as the hairs on the leaves and stems can cause skin irritation in some people.

Fairy Foxgloves can also be used in cut flower arrangements. Their delicate flowers make a lovely addition to bouquets and floral displays. To ensure that the cut flowers last as long as possible, it's important to cut them early in the morning when the plant is well hydrated, and to place them in water immediately.

Fairy Foxgloves have also been used in traditional medicine for their therapeutic properties. They have been used to treat a variety of ailments such as coughs, sore throats, and fevers. The plant contains several compounds that have been found to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which may explain their medicinal uses.

In addition, Fairy Foxgloves have been used in traditional folklore and mythology. In some cultures, the plant was believed to have magical properties and was used as a charm to ward off evil spirits. In Norse mythology, the plant was associated with the god Thor and was believed to protect against lightning strikes.

Fairy Foxgloves are also known by several other common names, including Alpine Balsam, Erinus, and Fairy Thimbles. The scientific name for the plant, Erinus alpinus, comes from the Greek word "erion", which means "wool", referring to the soft, hairy texture of the plant's leaves and stems.

The plant is native to mountainous regions of Europe, including the Alps, Pyrenees, and Carpathians. It can grow in a wide range of soils, including rocky, alkaline, and nutrient-poor soils. However, it prefers a well-draining soil and a sunny or partially shaded location.

Fairy Foxgloves are a biennial or short-lived perennial plant, meaning that they will bloom in their second year and then die. However, they will often self-seed and can form colonies over time. To encourage self-seeding, it's important to leave the spent flowers on the plant until they form seed pods.

In terms of pests and diseases, Fairy Foxgloves are relatively resistant. However, they can be susceptible to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew and rust, especially in humid or damp conditions. To prevent these diseases, it's important to plant the Fairy Foxgloves in a well-ventilated location and to avoid overhead watering.

In summary, Fairy Foxgloves are a fascinating and versatile plant species that offer many benefits to gardeners, pollinators, and folklore enthusiasts alike. With their beauty, adaptability, and rich cultural history, they are sure to continue to captivate and inspire for generations to come.

30 Fairy Foxglove Facts

Fairy Foxglove (Erinus alpinus) is a charming, low-growing perennial plant known for its delicate, tubular-shaped flowers. Here are 30 facts about this lovely plant:

  1. Scientific Name: Erinus alpinus is the botanical name for Fairy Foxglove.
  2. Family: It belongs to the Plantaginaceae family.
  3. Common Names: Also known as Alpine Balsam or Fairy Foxglove.
  4. Origin: Native to the mountainous regions of Europe and Asia.
  5. Size: Typically, it grows to about 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) tall.
  6. Habitat: Often found in alpine or rocky environments, particularly in meadows, open woodlands, and crevices.
  7. Appearance: The plant features small, lance-shaped leaves arranged in rosettes and produces tiny, tubular flowers.
  8. Flower Colors: Flowers come in various shades including pink, purple, and white.
  9. Blooming Period: Generally blooms in late spring to early summer.
  10. Attracts Pollinators: The tubular flowers are attractive to bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
  11. Cultivation: Fairy Foxglove prefers well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade.
  12. Hardiness: Generally hardy in USDA zones 3-8.
  13. Propagation: Can be propagated from seeds or through division.
  14. Drought Tolerant: Fairy Foxglove can tolerate dry conditions once established.
  15. Perennial: It's a perennial plant, returning year after year.
  16. Low Maintenance: It's relatively low-maintenance once established.
  17. Rock Gardens: Often used in rock gardens or as a ground cover due to its low stature.
  18. Edging: Suitable for edging or border planting due to its compact size.
  19. Container Plant: Works well in containers or hanging baskets.
  20. Pest Resistance: Typically resistant to most pests and diseases.
  21. Deer Resistant: Often not preferred by deer due to its bitterness.
  22. Medicinal Uses: Historically, some cultures used Erinus alpinus in herbal medicine for its supposed healing properties.
  23. Symbolism: In some cultures, it symbolizes delicacy and beauty.
  24. Hybrid Varieties: There are hybrid varieties developed for different flower colors and growth habits.
  25. Companion Plant: It pairs well with other alpine plants and low-growing perennials.
  26. Folklore: In folklore, the plant was believed to have magical properties and was associated with fairies.
  27. Soil Preference: Prefers slightly acidic to neutral soil.
  28. Fertilization: Generally doesn't require heavy fertilization.
  29. Short-Lived Blooms: Individual flowers have a relatively short bloom period.
  30. Cut Flowers: The delicate blooms can be used in small floral arrangements.

Remember that while Fairy Foxglove is a beautiful addition to gardens, some parts of the plant can be toxic if ingested, so caution should be taken around pets and children.


Fairy Foxglove filmed at Scout Scar in Cumbria on the 26th May 2023.


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Distribution Map

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