Digitalis ‘Illumination Flame’

By: Danielle Ernest
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DANIELLE ERNEST is a Seattle-based freelance writer. After 14 years of working in wholesale horticulture Danielle recently formed Flora &…

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When the most prestigious garden show in the world picks a winner, gardeners everywhere pay attention. Digitalis ‘Illumination Pink’ was awarded “Best New Plant” at the 2012 Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show. Since that time, acclaim and praise for these hybrids has quickly spread throughout Europe. And the 2013 introduction of Digitalis ‘Illumination Flame’ (syn. Digiplexis™ Illumination™ ‘Flame’) to the US market has added further heat to the horticultural flurry.

Digitalis ‘Illumination Flame’ (syn. Digiplexis™ Illumination™ ‘Flame’) produces continuous spires of blooms from summer through fall.  
Photo: courtesy of Cultivaris

Digitalis ‘Illumination Flame’ (syn. Digiplexis™ Illumination™ ‘Flame’) produces continuous spires of blooms from summer through fall. 
Photo: courtesy of Cultivaris

Genius plant breeder Charles Valin with the Thompson & Morgan seed company dreamed of a cross between Digitalis purpurea, common foxglove, and Isoplexis canariensis, an orange-flowered foxglove family relative native to the Canary Islands. The breeding project was a success and came to fruition in 2006, resulting in an exotic looking plant with the superior qualities of both parents. In publicity surrounding its introduction many articles refer to it as an intergeneric hybrid, or ×Digiplexis. In fact, DNA studies in the last decade have placed Isoplexis within the genus Digitalis. Regardless of the debate and often confusing information, the popularity of this exciting hybrid has grown abundantly.

Plant lovers the world over flaunting photos on the Internet led to my obsession with the plant and my desire to obtain it for my garden collection. The blooms are absolutely romantic with spires of pink flutes with creamsicle orange centers; bees can’t get enough of it. The foliage and flower spikes are that of the plant’s Digitalis purpurea parentage, while the shape of the blooms and coloration are that of Isoplexis canariensis. Tall flower stalks last for weeks instead of days (like common foxgloves) and stand over the bright evergreen leaves. Because it is a sterile hybrid, the plant will not reseed like the foxgloves we see along roadsides throughout the Pacific Northwest. Instead, its energy is put into blooming and with the removal of spent flowers it will continue to bloom all season.

I told myself I would not buy plants that were not hardy in my climate zone, but my “need” overruled that decision. I’m growing my plant in a container that can conveniently be moved into the garage for protection over the winter. This hybrid needs a cold period of six weeks or more at 38 to 45 degrees to ensure flowers for the coming season. My plan is to move my plant out of the garage when the temperatures reach that range in early spring.

Detail of the raspberry pink and creamsicle orange blossoms.  
Photo: courtesy of Cultivaris

Detail of the raspberry pink and creamsicle orange blossoms. 
Photo: courtesy of Cultivaris

I can’t wait to see several new cultivars already in the production pipeline including Illumination™ ‘Raspberry’ and ‘Berry Canary’. I will need to figure out where I could possibly put them because my garage is starting to fill up. I’m crossing my fingers for introductions with more cold hardiness and I have high hopes. In April 2013, Charles Valin received the RHS Reginald Cory Memorial Cup, an annual award presented to a plant breeder whose work in hybridization has resulted in the introduction of exciting, new, and hardy hybrids.


Growing Digitalis Illumination™ hybrids

• Plant in full sun to partial shade in well-drained soil.

• Water plants in the ground regularly until established; container plants will require more frequent irrigation.

• Mature height is 2 to 4 feet with a width of 8 to 12 inches. Blooms from summer through fall above evergreen foliage. Remove faded flower stalks to encourage new bud growth.

• Hardy to zone 8 (approximately 15°F); treat as an annual or overwinter indoors in colder regions but provide necessary cold dormancy to set flowers for the coming season.

• Unlike Digitalis purpurea, these hybrids are resistant to rust and fungal spotting.

• Protect from slugs and snails. Plants are deer resistant.

• Widely available in nurseries and garden centers throughout the West and by mail order from Annie’s Annuals. www.anniesannuals.com.