The Perennial Plant Association named false indigo (Baptisia australis) 2010’s Perennial Plant of the Year, and it’s easy to see why. Strong, dependable, and requiring very little maintenance, this North American native has a lot to offer gardeners from New Hampshire to Nebraska. From its drought resistant, adaptable nature to the breezy, melodious rattling sound created by dried seeds in the pods, false indigo is a natural—and unmistakably colorful—addition to any garden. Its violet-blue flowers grace clover-like, bluish-green leaves and bloom for three to four weeks in the spring before giving way to seed pods, which turn charcoal black when ripe and stay on through winter.
Common name: False indigo, wild indigo
Botanical name: Baptisia australis
Plant type: Perennial
Zones: 3 to 9
Height: 3 to 4 feet
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Average, well-drained
• Moisture: Average to dry
• Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil and prevent weeds.
• Pruning: None needed.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed or by division.
Pests and diseases
• No major insect or disease problems, although weevils may eat the seeds.
• Fungal leaf spots, powdery mildew, and rust may occur.
• False indigo has deep roots and resists transplanting, so plant it in a permanent location.
• B. australis is a great plant to use in a decorative border.
• Deer rarely eat Baptisia, because it contains several alkaloids, which make the plant unpalatable to them.
• It is best as a specimen or planted in small groups. It looks great with bulbs, or various Heuchera or Amsonia selections.
• False indigo attracts a number of butterfly species.
All in the family
• There are roughly 20 species of Baptisia native to North America. They’re found from south Canada to Florida and as far west as Texas.
• The genus name comes from the Greek word bapto, which means “to dip” or “dye.” Some species were grown in the 1700s for use as a blue-dye substitute for true indigo (Indigofera spp.).
• The plant is part of the pea family, which includes Glycine max (soybean), Phaseolus (beans), Medicago sativa (alfalfa), Arachis hypogaea (peanut), and Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice).
Where to buy
• Shooting Star Nursery, Georgetown, KY, 866-405-7979, www.shootingstarnursery.com
• Forestfarm, Williams, OR, 541-846-7269, www.forestfarm.com
• Sunlight Gardens, Andersonville, TN, 800-272-7396, www.sunlightgardens.com
(Text by Elyse Lucas, photo courtesy of Steven Still/Perennial Plant Association)