Beware the Grecian Foxglove

Over the course of several internships and summer jobs while studying zoology in college, I acquired a dubious claim-to-fame. I have been bitten, scratched, clawed or defecated on by more North American animals that anyone I know. I’ve been munched on by a prairie dog, a groundhog, a pig, a kestrel, both a fox and a fox snake, a baby bear and even a sea lion. I’ve been scratched by baby raccoons and baby lynx, angora rabbits and painted turtles. To this day, I still can’t look at an opossum without cringing and thinking about poop. Never-the-less, it is purely coincidental that I spend more time now working with native plants than wildlife (or maybe not).

Grecian foxglove growing in a field.

Until recently, there were few plants to fear in Minnesota other than poison ivy and stinging nettle. Now, however, non-native species like wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) and Grecian foxglove (Digitalis lanata) have begun to invade our state, and the damage they can cause is much more serious than burning skin or an itchy rash. If you get the juice from a wild parsnip on your skin, it can react with sunlight and can cause large blisters and boils. Still more frightening, Grecian foxglove is toxic to humans, farm animals and wildlife, even after the living plant parts have dried up in the fall. People can die from eating even small amounts of the plant and you can also get digitalis poisoning from handling the plant with bare hands, resulting in nausea, vomiting, severe headache, dilated pupils, problems with eyesight, and convulsions.

Close up of flowers on Grecian foxglove.

Because of these dangers, Grecian foxglove is a prohibited noxious weed on Minnesota’s “eradicate list,” which means that property owners who find it in their yards or on their land are required by law to destroy the plant and its roots. Grecian foxglove has been found in Minnesota in Dakota, Wabasha and Washington Counties. In Washington County, there are known infestations in several locations along St. Croix Trail, especially in and around Afton State Park and near the intersection of Hwy 96 and Hwy 95 just north of Stillwater. The plant prefers sunny areas such as yards and grasslands; it forms a basal rosette the first year and sends up a flowering stalk, two to five feet tall, in subsequent years with pretty, pinkish-white tubular-shaped flowers.

In 2013, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, together with the University of Minnesota Extension and Conservation Corps Minnesota, received funding to begin a statewide project on public and private lands for outreach, survey and control of Grecian foxglove. Part of the project provides funding to assist private property owners who are dealing with extensive infestations of Grecian foxglove. If you suspect you may have Grecian foxglove on your land: 1) Note the exact location and, if possible, take digital photos of the leaves, vines, and fruit that can be emailed for identification; 2) Contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture at or 888-545-6684.

This summer, the Washington Conservation District will also be hosting two workshops to provide local residents with information about identifying and controlling Grecian foxglove. The first workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, June 18, 7-8pm at Stillwater Township Hall. The second is on Thursday, June 19, 7-8pm at Afton City Hall. For more info & to RSVP contact Wendy Griffin at or 651-275-1136 x.24.