Last week, one of our staff, Will, called me in to show a new plant he had found. As I was first entering his office, I could see a plant on his computer screen that looked a bit like a small, pastel colored Gladiolus. He described to me a new plant that he wanted to try called Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame.’ Wow! It looked beautiful but I had never heard of the plant before. Turns out that this is a relatively new bi-generic hybrid combining Digitalis purpurea with the non-hardy Isoplexis canariensis. We had grown and killed many Isoplexis canariensis while I was at Longwood Gardens so immediately I became skeptical of the plant. Isoplexis is a gorgeous, shrubby plant with orange flowers from the Canary Islands. It is not hardy along the eastern United States so it was grown in the conservatory. Even there, the summer humidity of the mid-Atlantic region was too much for Isoplexis to thrive.
That said, Charles Valin from Thompson and Morgan in the United Kingdom, had the notion to cross Digitalis purpurea with Isoplexis canariensis back in 2006. He was able to make a gorgeous bi-generic hybrid with bi-colored, foxglove-like flowers. The resultant plant had a lot of wonderful characteristics: foxglove flowers in unusual colors (orange throat with pinkish purple outside), dark green foliage, bushy habit with multiple flowering spikes, and it flowers from May until September. That’s right, flowers from late spring until early autumn. No foxglove can do that.
The one drawback is that it is only hardy to USDA zone 8, which for us along the east coast of the United States would mean from the southern coast of Virginia and points south. It has shown to be vigorous (a grower’s guide recommends growing in a 2 gallon pot) so it might make for a fantastic annual for us here along the Maine coast is USDA zone 6a. The ultimate size of the plant should be around 30″ in height and slightly less in width.
Look for Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’ to be the plant to get for 2014. It has already won the Chelsea Flower Show Plant of The Year in 2012 and Greenhouse Grower’s 2013 Editor’s Choice award. What other plant do you know of with its own website and Facebook page?