Stuff in My Yard: Wild Indigo

This large stand grew in one year from a single plant shoved into an untreated clay bed overrun with honeysuckle, weeds, and mint.

 

 

Wild Indigo

Baptisia australis

If I was given only one genus of plants to put in the garden, I’d pick the salvias, hands down. But if I was given two, the second would be the baptisias.

I can’t speak highly enough about these plants. They’re tough as nails, native, grow like crazy, handle drought and sogginess in my garden with equal aplomb, will grow in completely unamended clay, pollinators like the flowers, and the one I put in last year is about five times the size of the initial plant and sent up spectacular towers of blooms this spring. I’ve seen no significant pests, it’s deer-resistant, and if you’re into cut flowers, this one’s awesome.

Species you’re likely to find in the garden center include Baptisia australis (shown here) and Baptisia alba, white wild indigo. (They’re also occasionally called “false indigo” because their dye is used as a substitute for “true” indigo.) There’s also an increasing number of cultivars, with names like “Prairie Twilight” and “Carolina Moonlight.”

I’m glad it’s getting more cultivars–it’s already one of the more common natives in gardens, but seriously, I don’t know why every gardener in the zone doesn’t grow this stuff. (Zone 3-8! It’s tough! Baptisia alba will even take part shade!) I often make snarky comments about only having one of anything in the garden, but I’ve got four indigo plants. Three are new this year–having seen how well the one did, I plunked in three more, including an alba and a yellow “Carolina Moonlight.”

According to wikipedia, the seeds are rarely viable owing to a parasitic weevil that gets into the seed pods. Interesting. I hadn’t seen any volunteers, maybe it’s because of weevils.

You can make dye out of it, but I’ve never tried, not being a textile type. Still, if I wind up planting as much of this stuff as I suspect I will, I may wind up with enough to dye my own denim.

Anyway, if you have a hankering for native plants and don’t know where to start–wild indigos are about as trouble-free and rewarding a plant as you can get, and I can’t speak highly enough of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Comments

  • […] just since everybody’s asking–it’s wild false indigo. I grow it in my garden. One of my favorite plants, a real trooper. It’s not as lasting a dye as true indigo, but […]

  • Edward Bryant says:

    Hi Ursula,

    Looks like a leguminous plant… does it fix nitrogen?

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