Baptisia, commonly known as wild indigo and false indigo is a genus of about 20 deciduous species. The botanical name baptisia originates from the Greek word bapto, which means to dip or to dye. Blue indigo, (baptisia australis) and yellow indigo, (baptisia tinctoria) were both used to produce dyes by both native Americans and settlers before the introduction of (indigofera tinctoria), which was discovered to be a better quality. Medicinally, it was used to treat tooth ache and nausea and also as an eye wash.

Baptisia Purple Smoke
Baptisia Purple Smoke

Most species grow naturally in open grasslands, woodlands and along roadsides. They are tough and long lived perennials that are rabbit and deer resistant and are loved by bumblebees and hummingbirds which help to pollinate them. They are also heat, humidity and drought resistant once they’re mature. Baptisia have a very wide, natural range to which they seem well adapted, meaning the foliage is pleasant to look at from spring, through summer up until winter. Making this plant suitable for traditional cottage gardens, native plant gardens, and contemporary gardens.

Baptisia can grow up to 4ft in height and can spread up to 3ft at full maturity level. They assume a bush-like appearance that makes it even greater when used as a background for other perennial plants. These beauties require at least 6 hours of full sun a day to thrive although they can also do well in light shade. The ideal types of soils are gravelly, sandy and well drained loamy soils. Presence of acidity in the soil may impend the development of some hybrid species of the plant and a proper awareness of the specifications of one’s choice of Baptisia is important to ensure that correct care is given unto the plant. In instances where over acidity is a problem, adding lime can help improve the chances of survival. 

Baptisia Twilite Prairie Blues
Baptisia Twilite Prairie Blues

Baptisia blooms multicolored flowers, white, (baptisia alba) blue (baptisia australis), purple (baptisia x), and yellow (baptisia tinctoria). These flowers are held upright by racemes or flower spikes which have short stems attaching each flower to the main stalk. The Flower spikes can be 12 to 24 inches tall, and consist of flowers that resemble the pea plant. Blooming occurs for about 5 weeks in late spring to early summer, with most bloom being in the months of March, April or early May. The stems make great cut flowers. If one plans to plant the plain species, which is Blue false indigo (baptisia australis), it would help to create a support for the plant to avoid flopping over during summer. This is likely to happen in places where the soil is too rich, over fertilized or the plant is too shaded. Newer varieties of the plant are  however more resistant.

ra·ceme rāˈsēm, Noun: a simple inflorescence (as in the lily of the valley) in which the flowers are borne on short stalks of about equal length at equal distances along an elongated axis and open in succession toward the apex.

The baptisia leaves are trifoliate and can be dark blue-green to light yellow-green. The leaflets are slender and oval rounded in shape. These leaves turn black in fall. There is a choice to either trim the bushes for a neater outlook or to maintain the black seed pods for color aesthetic appeal against other plants in the garden.

Baptisia is difficult to transplant due to their fragile root systems. You can propagate by use of fresh seed. Get the seed pods just as the pods split. Then, sow the seeds onto a flat or transfer them onto an outside nursery bed. Plant them at least a quarter inch deep and they will germinate after about 2 weeks.

If fresh seed is not available, chill the seeds for about 6-12 weeks and then scarify the seed. This means to sand down the seed using sand paper or using a knife or  a file. Soak them in hot water for 24 hours to improve germination and then plant them indoors.  The seedlings can be moved onto the garden once the risk of frost has been eliminated. Follow the previously mentioned instructions of planting the seeds at least ¼ inch deep on well-drained seed mix of 3 parts perlite to 1-part peat. Ensure that the heat is about 75`F until the leaves emerge from the ground. The plant, grown from seed, can be slow to establish, taking up to 3 years to produce flowers. But once mature, they adopt the tardiness that makes it all so easy to maintain.

Baptisia bush in bloom

Baptisia can also be propagated by the use of Stem cuttings. However, one should ensure that they acquire their cuttings using proper means as some of the cultivated varieties are patented and licenses ought to be acquired. Ensure that the stem cuts are taken before the new growth becomes too woody and are cut back to the ground in late fall, winter, or early spring before new shoots appear. The cuttings should also be long enough to ensure that at least one set of leaf buds will be below the soil. After, immerse the stem cutting into a rooting hormone and put into a mix of composted bark and peat in 3:1 ratio respectively. Maintain high humidity using a glass jar or a plastic tent. Rooting should occur in about 8 weeks.

Very minimal care is required by the plant after propagation. Water well immediately after planting and let nature take course. Baptisia roots best during spring, when the growth is still soft so be careful to avoid any impact on the soil surface that may impact the growth of the roots. The deep tap-roots which can grow up to 12ft deep, make transplanting, dividing and moving the plant difficult as this could kill the plant.Baptisia is a long lasting and low maintenance genus and can thrive decades after full maturity if not interfered with and in harsh conditions. 

There are three main hybrid varieties of the baptisia species. These are; Purple Smoke" (Baptisia x "Purple Smoke"), also known as the false indigo, which is one of the oldest cultivated varieties and is easily identified as the hybrid species with a purple eye in the center of the blue flowers with charcoal grey stems of the alba. A mature plant of about 4 years can bear up to 50 blooming stalks. Its soil ph. requirements are more on the acidic side. This variant spreads by underground rhizomes and can spread to 4ft in width and 5ft in depth. This cultivar flowers in June or July and has the habit of forming clumps. It takes 2-5 years to achieve full maturity and is excellent for back of the border. The purple smoke combines well with most American native species and blends well with grasses for meadow gardens. This species is great as a cut flower.

"Twilite Prairie blues" (Baptisia × varicolor "Twilite Prairie blues"): this a trademarked cross between B. australis and the yellow Baptisia sphaerocarpa, making purple flowers tinged with buttery yellow; this variant is quite colorful. Three-year-old plants can produce up to 100 blooming stalks in early summer and grows 4-5ft tall creating a bushy clump of blue green leaves and spreads up to 7ft in width. Its bloom lasts for several weeks with a great foliage effect for the rest of the season. It thrives in zones 4-9 in full sun or partial shade. The Twilite prairies blues can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions including summer drought. They are great for both dried and cut flowers, or for a winter effect in the is great in the middle or back of a sunny border. As it resents any form of disturbance, ensure that you create plenty of space for its growth. Unlicensed propagation for this species is prohibited 

The white Wild Indigo, also Baptisia alba, white false indigo or B. leucantha Is a baptisia species identified by itswhite flowers set against dark stems. The plant is scent free with large flowers of up to eighteen inches long that occur at the top of the plant. Flowers are large and occur at the top of the plant. New sprouts of the plant are very similar to asparagus when they push from the ground during spring. This cultivar has two large stipules at the base of 3-parted leaves, giving the effect of five leaflets rather than three. After the first frost, the entire shrub-like plant turns black, providing a beautiful contrast   in the fall landscape.  As fall progresses to winter, the strong stems crack at the base and winds carry this plant, across the prairie, distributing the seed. This species is mostly found in tallgrass prairie but also occurring in open woodlands and roadsides. Its range is centered in the Midwest and extends south to Texas and Florida.It is known to bloom earlier in the southern parts of its range and later the farther north one goes. The white indigo requires the following Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8). Baptisia alba has known to be fatal to cows and irritating to humans, children especially. The level of toxicity however depends on part of plant ingested, season, stage of growth and presence of other toxic substances in the environment such as herbicides, pesticides and other environmental pollutants.

baptisia bud

The deer resistant nature of the Baptisia plant is just but one of the many attractive qualities it possesses. The beauty lies in its adaptability to different weather and soils; the availability of different colors of flowers for the species; Its low maintenance nature and the versatility in relation to other flowers or plants in the garden. Trust the Baptisia to look beautiful wherever! Doesn’t that make you want to explore having these beauties in your garden?!