Posted by Aaron Barton on Jun 6th 2022

Baptisia (False/Wild Indigo)

Unique perennial standbys can help to liven up traditional perennial beds and set your space apart from the rest, with Baptisia providing robust structure, texture, and multi-season interest in a shrub-like form great for sunny spaces.

Baptisia australis (bap-TIS-ee-uh aw-STRA-liss), also known as false indigo or wild indigo, is named for its historic use as a substitute source of indigo dye (typically sourced from true indigo, Indigofera tinctoria), the genus Baptisia originating from the greek bapto meaning "to dye." A phenomenal late spring to early summer blooming herbaceous perennial, false indigo is native to east central Canada and the eastern United States, including right here in Minnesota. A member of the legume family, Fabaceae, and naturally occurring in diverse habitats from woodland borders, to stream and river shores, to open meadows and prairies, Baptisia is a wonderfully versatile, long-lived, and hardy choice.

A large, shrub-like herbaceous perennial, false indigo should be planted in a definite location with its mature form in mind. After planting, Baptisia prioritize belowground growth almost exclusively, developing a healthy deep tap root system for the first two to three seasons before flourishing into a stunning mature plant three to four feet tall and wide. Once planted, false indigo should not be transplanted or moved to ensure the health of the tap root system, so make sure you are happy with your placement before prior to planting.

Trifoliate, soft blue-green foliage emerges in early spring, maturing into an attractive vase shape in late spring before blooms begin to emerge. Elegant racemes of sweet pea-like flowers rise high above the foliage, boasting excellent color wonderful for pollinators, especially bees, and excellent as cut flowers. While the native Baptisia australis blooms a beautiful indigo blue, there are several exciting cultivars available as well, including the soft purple flowers of Baptisia x ‘Purple Smoke’ and the lively pink and yellow bicolor blooms of Baptisia Decadence Deluxe ‘Pink Lemonade.’ After blooming, spent flowers develop into attractive dark seed pods which shake and rattle in the fall and winter, offering unique multi-season interest excellent in the garden for contrast against the snowy landscape, or used in dried flower arrangements.

Left alone by deer and rabbits, and drought tolerant thanks to its deep taprooted structure, false indigo is a carefree plant once established, thriving in well-drained soils in areas of full sun, though tolerant of part sun conditions and poor soil as well. Baptisia is a rugged and versatile selection for any design, excellent as a specimen, anchor, or background planting in a range of designs from cottage gardens to natural designs, to pollinator gardens, native restorations, large sunny borders, and more.

Happy planting!