The Malvern foxgloves are in full voice once more.
The Miracle of the Bees and the Foxgloves
“Because hairs on their speckled daybeds baffle the little bees,
Foxgloves hang their shingles out for rich bumbling hummers,
Who crawl into their tunnels-of-delight with drunken ease
(See Darwin’s pages on his foxglove summers)
Plunging over heckles caked with sex-appealing stuff,
To sip from every hooker an intoxicating liquor
That stops it propagating in a corner with itsel
And this is how the foxglove keeps its sex life in order.
Two anthers – adolescent, in a hurry to dehisce –
Let fly too soon, so pollen lies in drifts about the floor.
Along swims bumbler bee and makes an undercoat of this,
Reverses, exits, lets it fall by accident next door.
So ripeness climbs the bells of Digitalis flower by flower,
Undistracted by a mind, or a design, or by desire”.
(Poem by Anne Stevenson)
Foxglove – Beautiful but deadly and Malvern is full of them. This familiar flower has the power to cure and kill. Pink-purple in colour, occasionally white and showing darker coloured spots on the lower lip of the flower. Flowers are tube-shaped and grow on a tall spike. The plant itself can grow up to 2m tall. Foxgloves are an important source of pollen for bees. The species has evolved to be especially attractive to long-tongued bees such as the common carder bee. The brightly coloured flowers and dark spotted lip attracts the bee, while the lower lip of the flower allows the insect to land before climbing up the tube. In doing so, the bee will drop pollen from other foxgloves, allowing the plant to reproduce. The origins of the name foxglove are unclear, but can be traced all the way back to the Anglo-Saxon period. It’s thought the ‘glove’ part of the name is simply due to the flowers looking like glove fingers. Less certain is the connection to foxes. One theory is that people believed foxes wore the flowers on their paws to silence their movements when hunting. Another is that the flower is often found growing close to the earths where foxes raise their young. Foxglove contains a chemical called digitalis that can be used to treat heart failure and high blood pressure by raising blood flow and increasing the body’s defence mechanisms. However, the plant is poisonous if consumed directly, and can cause a number of health problems.