A star is born: several years in the making, a new foxglove hybrid is ready for its debut in your garden.
Gardeners are rushing to grow it; botanists are surprised it even exists. The hybrid digi-plexis 'Illumination Flame' (above) is one of the horticulture world's biggest hits in years--and one of its biggest curiosities. Even among seasoned gardeners, the shrubby perennial with vivid candlelike blooms often elicits the question: "What is that?"
The plant is the result of six years of work by Charles Valin of Thompson & Morgan. He created it by crossing two distant foxglove cousins and selecting the best of countless hybrids. Valin first saw an Isoplexis--a big tropical-looking shrub and "a bit of a mythical plantsmans' plant"--in a botanical garden. "It's not easy to grow," he says, "but I loved its orange color." By crossing it with Digitalis purpurea, he produced a sterile plant that wouldn't scatter seeds of blooms in different colors like weeds. Now more widely available in nurseries, digiplexis makes a great vertical accent for roses or borders. "Bees and hummingbirds just can't get enough of it," says Valin. "I got more than I dreamed of."
What makes a digiplexis
CANARY ISLAND FOXGLOVE
Isoplexis canariensis Evergreen shrub
A bushy native of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, with woody basal trunks and large dark green leaves. Grows 4 to 5 feet tall. Yellow to orange flowers bloom in late spring and summer. Likes sun or part shade; tolerates drought once established.
Digitalis purpurea Biennial or short-lived perennial
From Europe and the Mediterranean, this foxglove forms a basal rosette of woolly leaves that are prone to a disease called rust. Flowers--purple to pink, on single stems to 2 feet tall or more--appear over a few weeks in spring. The plant dies back after bloom. Self-sows. Needs shade or part shade and regular water.
FOXGLOVE HYBRID Digiplexis
'Illumination Flame' Shrubby perennial
Blooms in colors from apricot to magenta top a mound of velvety leaves that are less prone to rust than standard foxglove. Multiple bloom spikes, to 3 feet, appear from midspring until hard frosts in mild climates. Will not reseed. Thrives in sun or part shade; moderate water and fertilizer encourage flowering. Like all foxgloves, it's toxic to pets.
Illustrations by MARGARET SLOAN