681 Baptisia albaCommon Names: white wild indigo, white false indigo Family: Fabaceae (bean Family)
White wild indigo is a herbaceous perennial that looks more like a shrub than a typical perennial. It grows into a nice round bushy shape up to 4 ft (1.2 m) high and nearly as wide. Even in warmer areas this plant goes dormant in the winter and should be carefully marked so it is not disturbed during dormancy. In early spring unique bare stalks, looking similar to asparagus shoots, appear, then start leafing out. A month later it produces several 12 to 18 in (30.5-45.7 cm) upright white flower spikes above the foliage. The leaves are trifoliolate, meaning there are sets of three leaflets on each stem. The stem and foliage color is blue-green.
After the flowers fade, white wild indigo sets large seed pods (called legumes), clearly indicating its membership in the bean family.
The long list of botanical synonyms is due to recent reclassification by botanists of all white flowered baptisias to B. alba except the creamy white B. leucophaea and the localized B. albescens. This of course has led to much confusion in the horticultural trade, but fortunately the cultivation requirements of all baptisias are similar.
'Pendula', once classified as a separate species but now considered a cultivar, has a drooping habit and pendulous seed pods.
White wild indigo, Baptisia alba, is native to the southeastern United States from Virginia to central Florida. It occurs in dry, sandy habitats, especially longleaf pine sandhills, and also in open disturbed lands and old fields.
CultureThe key to growing white wild indigo is patience. It takes several years for a plant to get well established, but once established it is extremely long lived. White wild indigo will form a deep tap root and resents disturbance, so you should not try to transplant it once it is established in the garden. This deep tap root allows the plant to survive periods of drought and to sprout back quickly after burning to the ground in the frequent natural fires that characterize its native habitat. Light: Full sun to part sun. Moisture: Wild indigo requires very well drained soil, but responds well to regular watering. It can tolerate extended droughts. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. Propagation: Propagate wild indigo from seed, which should be soaked in hot water for a day or two until they swell; then they will germinate in about 20 days. Alternatively, the seeds can be scarified, by nicking the hard seed coat with a file or knife before planting. It also is possible to divide the root by carefully cutting it with a sharp knife and then watering the transplants frequently.
White wild indigo makes a good landscape plant, usually planted as a single specimen and used like a bush. Blue flowered species of Baptisia were used by native Americans and early settlers to make a blue dye.
White wild indigo is long lived and requires little maintenance once established. It is relatively free of disease or pests, and has an attractive bushy shape with showy white flowers in spring.
Dave Skinner 5/17/00; updated 3/9/04