The Miracle of the Bees and the Foxgloves

by Anne Stevenson

Because hairs on their speckled daybeds baffle the little bees,
foxgloves come out to advertise for rich bumbling hummers,
who crawl into their tunnels-of-delight with drunken ease
(see Darwin’s chapters on his foxglove summers)
plunging over heckles caked with sex-appealing stuff
to sip from every hooker its intoxicating liquor
and stop it propagating in a corner with itself.

And this is how the foxflower keeps its sex life in order.
Two anthers—adolescent, in a hurry to dehisce—
let fly too soon, so pollen lies in drifts around 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.

 

from: Little Foxes and the Fey

Folklorists are divided on where the common name for Digitalis purpurea comes from. In some areas of the British Isles the name seems be a corruption of “folksglove,” associating the flowers with the fairy folk, while in others the plant is also known as “fox fingers,” its blossoms used as gloves by the foxes to keep dew off their paws. Another theory suggests that the name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word foxes-gleow, a “gleow” being a ring of bells. This is connected to Norse legends in which foxes wear the bell-shaped foxglove blossoms around their necks; the ringing of bells was a spell of protection against hunters and hounds.

2 Comments

  • Cecile Petra says:

    oooh, tingling with delight at the images and poetry. Yes, it’s a stellar year for foxgloves! I had the privilege of being on a large property yesterday where the owner wanted me to pick them because there were too many, so came home with two enormous vases of them. Such opulence!

  • Mr. Mole says:

    Thanks Cecile. Is there any special way of handling foxgloves? Any toxicity to be concerned about?

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