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BAPTISIA australis

Image of Baptisia australis

Gerald L. Klingaman

Family

Fabaceae

Botanical Name

BAPTISIA australis

Plant Common Name

Blue False Indigo, Plains False Indigo

General Description

When looking upon a mature false indigo in bloom it looks much like a small shrub, but it’s truly an herbaceous perennial, meaning it dies back to the ground each year. Native populations of false indigo exist across a large part of eastern North America, in all but a few of the most southern states. They tend to grow in old-fields, prairies and other open wild areas. Some Native American tribes used Baptisia roots for medicine and the flowers or flowering stems for the dye they yield. Despite the common name, false indigo dye is not blue but shades of orange, brown and olive green.

Trifoliate, compound leaves of gray-green cover upright stems that rise from the ground in spring. As plants age, they develop more stems and become broader and bushier. In late spring to early summer, spikes of violet blue, sweetpea-like flowers appear. These are like manna to bees, particularly queen bumblebees. Hummingbirds have been known to occasionally visit the blooms of false indigo but the flowers have the incorrect floral formula for butterfly pollination. By midsummer, lots of bulbous green pods are produced. These turn black as they age and are visually interesting. They can even be cut for dried floral arrangements.

False indigo grows best in full sun and fertile loam but also thrives in poorer sandy or gravelly soils. Excellent soil drainage is a must. It forms a very deep taproot and does not take well to transplanting once established. False indigo is a very hardy plant that can withstand deep, freezing temperatures. It has few pest and disease problems if grown under the right cultural conditions. Plants will self-sow. Seedlings are slow-growing and take three to four years of growth before they will flower. Transplant them in the first year if they are to be saved.

This is a bold perennial for large perennial borders or native gardens. There are several notable varieties that vary in size, such as the more compact Baptisia australis var. minor.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    9 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    3 - 9

  • Sunset Zone

    A1, A2, A3, H1, H2, 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19

  • Plant Type

    Perennial

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun

  • Height

    3'-6' / 0.9m - 1.8m

  • Width

    2'-4' / 0.6m - 1.2m

  • Bloom Time

    Late Spring, Early Summer

  • Native To

    North America, Northeastern United States, Mid-Atlantic United States, Southeastern United States, North-Central United States, Central United States, South-Central United States, Canada

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Clay, Loam, Sand

  • Growth Rate

    Slow

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water

  • Habit

    Clump-Forming

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    Blue, Blue Violet

  • Fruit Color

    Chocolate, Black

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Blue Green, Gray Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Blue Green, Gray Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Sea Green, Gray Green, Chocolate

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Dried Flower/Everlasting, Mixed Border, Wildflower

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes