Sunday, May 30, 2010


This was a surprise. Returning home from Paxon Hill Farm nursery, I took Covered Bridge Road, a small, little known byway. As I rounded a curve, I saw this colony of Digitalis ambigua growing in the grass on a bank. It looked so natural I thought it might be native, but I don't think any digitalis is native to North America. I've looked on the Internet, but haven't been able to find the origin of this plant. Is there a good, comprehensive reference for origins of plants we grow as perennials?


  1. according to what I can find, digitalis ambigua is synonymous to d. grandiflora and is native to Europe...
    some info is here:

  2. D. ambigua or D. obsucura (the lower growing perennial one) are both European natives --ambigua from Turkey and Serbia and obscura from Spain. Found out the old fashioned way--looked it up in my AHS A-Z Encylopedia of Garden Plants. It's faster to look it up there than the internet for sure.

  3. Susan, I found a reference to medicinal use of the plant in the Ukraine, so I figured it was from somewhere in central or eastern Europe. Thanks for letting me know, and thanks for guiding me to the reference I apparently need. I'm frequently annoyed that I can't find information on a plant's original habitat and ecological niche. "Well drained soil in sun" simply isn't enough to understand where a plant might do well.

  4. I go to Kristo Pienaar's The South African What Flower is That? For me, this covers both the common-or-garden and available indigenous/native plants. I like to know where plants come from! And he gives the families, good to know the rest of the clan. There is an original Australian version of this book.

  5. I find Kristo Pienaar's book on Amazon for $120, and a used one for $73. Does it cover only flora of South Africa, or is it broader in scope?

  6. RHS 4 Vol Dictionary gives countries of origin.
    States not listed for Dig.
    ambigua is grandiflora and European.
    selections have been named.
    cultivated plants do escape don't they?
    lucky them!

  7. Robert,
    Thanks for the reference. I looked at the price of the RHS Dictionary and almost fainted.

  8. The AHS Encyclopedia is the US equivalent of the RHS Dictionary. I bought mine at Borders on sale for $19.99. Worth every penny.

  9. I ordered a used one from Amazon yesterday. Thanks for the heads up.

  10. Since I am trying for a similar look in the garden with various Digitalis all shoulder to shoulder, there is hope with this find of yours, native or not. Thanks!

  11. The digitalis is beautiful and, a propos of your last post about natives, makes me very sympathetic with not being a purist. I plant mostly natives here in my Welsh garden but not exclusively. I liked Beth Chatto's thinking on this. Too much purism stifles creativity.

  12. Frances,
    I, of course, wonder whether these seeds blew in on the wind, or whether some gardener recognized they would look great along this roadside and deliberately spread the seed. I guess we will never know. They are certainly doing well among the grasses on the bank.

  13. elizabethn,
    I've always read about the dearth of native plants in the British Isles (the glaciers forced them into southern Europe), and the resultant necessity of planting non-natives. By chance of geography and climate, we retained much of our native flora during the last glaciation. So I'm surprised to hear you plant mostly natives in your garden. Perhaps the mildness of your climate allowed more natives to survive the glaciers?



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