Blue False Indigo, Blue Wild Indigo
Baptisia australis (L.) R.Br. is the correct and accepted scientific name for this species of Baptisia. It was named and described as such by Robert Brown in the second edition of Hortus Kewensis in 1811. It was first named Sophora australis by Carl von Linnaeus in the 12th edition of Systema Naturae in 1767.
The genus, Baptisia Vent., was named and described by Etienne Pierre Ventenat in Decas Generum Novorum in 1808. Plants of the World Online lists 16 accepted species and 7 hybrids of Baptisia (as of 5-19-19 when I am updating this page).
I bought this plant from the Green Street Market in Clinton, Missouri in the spring of 2017. There were several larger pots of Baptisia ‘Lunar Eclipse’ that were flowering but they were a bit pricy. SO, I settled for one of the smaller plants that wasn’t flowering yet.
I originally wrote this page for Baptisia ‘Lunar Eclipse’, taking many photos, writing captions, and adding them to this page only to find out later the plant was incorrectly labeled. This plant was NOT a Baptisia ‘Lunar Eclipse’.
SO, I had to change all captions on this page as well as in the folders on my computer and re-write the entire page. I am no newbie when it comes to changing plant names because I have done it for many years as scientific names change. It does feel weird, though, to have a plant you waited a year for it to flower only to find it was incorrectly labeled. In a way, I felt robbed or cheated. Of course, I am just kidding. I am honored to have such a beautiful plant as a companion no matter what its name is or it’s possibly sordid past. It isn’t the plant’s fault it was incorrectly labeled and has had a few aliases from being misunderstood.
Just remember as you read, I have changed the captions. If I accidentally forgot a few they will say Baptisia ‘Lunar Eclipse’. The photos in the library (for this blog) say Baptisia ‘Lunar Eclipse’ until I have time to delete the photos from this page and add re-named photos.
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Origin: Native to parts of the United States
Zones: USDA Zones 3-10
Size: 36-48” tall x 36-48” wide.
Light: Full sun to light shade preferably
Soil: Well-drained soil
Water: Average. Drought tolerant once established.
Uses: Attracts butterflies.
As you may know already, the common names for Baptisia australis are Blue False Indigo or Blue Wild Indigo. They are a native species in almost every state in the central and eastern United States. The genus is a little more widespread adding at least a few more states and part of eastern Canada. Flowers of native plants vary in color from shades of light to very dark blue. Plants grown from seed saved can also be different shades of blue. In other words, it is variable.
The Baptisia genus was formerly placed in the Leguminosae family. The 2013 version of The Pant List (which is no longer maintained) lists it in this family along with 945 other genera which may not include all the unresolved genera (I am not going to count to see). The family consisted of 24,505 accepted species, 2,327 accepted infraspecific names, 35,881 synonyms, and a whopping 16,627 unresolved names! When I first wrote this page in December 2017, Plants of the World Online says Baptisia is in the Fabaceae family and consisted of 683 accepted genera. It also says there are 22 accepted species of Baptisia while the 2013 version of The Plant List named 28 accepted species plus an additional 7 of infraspecific rank, 81 synonyms and 16 unresolved names. When I updated this page last on May 19, 2019, POWO has the list of accepted species down to 16 plus 7 infraspecific names (hybrids). The list of accepted genera in the Fabaceae family has increased to 760.
For a while, the Salvia coccinea were growing among the Baptisia and almost overshadowed it. It didn’t seem to mind, though, and continued growing.
The leaves of the Baptisia australis are kind of a bluish-green color and remind me of alfalfa.
Even after several frosts, the Baptisia was still green. I piled up leaves around the base to help insulate the roots because I definitely want it to return in the spring. Eventually, it did get a good zap and went dormant. As you can see, The Phlomis ‘Edward Bowles’ to the left is covered with a big pot. I have been covering it up every night. It can be tricky.
January was very cold and I kept the Baptisia covered with leaves. I didn’t cut the dead stems off for several reasons. One is because they help keep the leaves on the plant. Some perennials need to have their stems left on so water won’t get inside their hollow stems over winter. It can cause the roots to rot.
When I checked under the leaves of the Baptisia on March 3, I saw it was sprouting…
Several perennials had begun to emerge from their winters sleep, but with the temperatures still being pretty cold, they weren’t growing that much.
Then as temps started warming up and staying that way they started growing.
The Baptisia australis was doing very well by May 6 when the above photo was taken.
This is when I started wondering if something was whacky with this plant being a Baptisia ‘Lunar Eclipse’. Why are the buds a deep blue?
Ummm… Something was definitely weird. Didn’t the description for Baptisia ‘Lunar Eclipse’ say “The flowers are initially a light lemon over cream color, then age first to cream, then to light and ultimately medium violet, producing a unique two- to three-toned color effect.”
I supposed it is very possible I missed the flowers when they were first opening, otherwise, I would have more photos. Maybe it isn’t as dramatic as I thought it would be since this is its first year flowering.
You know, when you see photos of a plant in catalogs and online, you expect to get what you see. I suppose I shouldn’t be too quick to judge and say this plant was mislabeled yet. Let’s see what happens next year (if it survives the winter) and hopefully, I can pay much closer attention. I seem to have several unanswered questions that only observation can answer.
After a few days, the flowers were no more. Ummm… Why didn’t they last longer and over a longer period of time? Very interesting. Now all I have is a HUGE plant overshadowing the Phlomis ‘Edward Bowles’.
Then I noticed the HUGE peas!
Even after flowering, the Baptisia is a nice looking plant. I think I goofed when I planted it here, though. It is really crowding out the Phlomis ‘Edward Bowles’. I don’t particularly want to move the Phlomis, though. Maybe I should move the Baptisia… That is just something to consider over the winter for next spring if they survive the winter and I am still here.
After the flowers fade the seed pods form. They look pike pea pods.
BIG seed pods!
Within a few days after the previous photo, the pods were black…
The Baptisia australis had grown so big it was almost covering up the Phlomis ‘Edward Bowles’ in the southwest corner bed. I decided to give a good trimming…
The Baptisia has started coming up and will soon be growing like mad. I still may relocate it so it won’t be overshadowing the Phlomis ‘Edward Bowles’. I am going to keep a closer eye on this plant this year when its buds start to form and the flowers first open up.
The wannabe Baptisia ‘Lunar Eclipse’ is still slowly but surely growing. Once the temps warm up it will really take off. I still want to move it…
The Baptisia australis has grown A LOT since I took the last photos on April 7. I had to make a decision to move this plant to the southeast corner bed because it shades the Phlomis ‘Edward Bowles’ too much. At least I think so although the Phlomis wasn’t complaining. ANYWAY, Saturday afternoon I took the shovel and stuck it in all the way around the clump to loosen the soil… Ummm… Baptisia has deep taproots and does not like to be disturbed so I was going to be very careful to get as much soil and as deep as I could. It would not budge! I thought I was going to break the shovel handle because the soil was so hard. So, I decided I would move the Phlomis to the southeast corner bed instead. It was not happy about that decision…
Only two days after the previous photo was taken, I noticed the wannabe Baptisia australis had MANY buds!
Now I will have to keep an eye on it…
The Baptisia is LOADED with buds this year!
Ummm… It definitely NOT looking like a Baptisia ‘Lunar Eclipse’.
It doesn’t really matter if this plant was mislabeled at this point. These flowers are AWESOME! There is no “maybe next year the flowers will be different” about it.
Well, it does look like some of the Baptisia australis photos online, most are a lighter color of blue. Apparently, Baptisia australis is variable as far as the shade of blue goes.
I am pretty sure this plant is a cultivar, but deciding which one is tough. Baptisia ‘Lunar Eclipse’ is a complex hybrid of several species, so how do I know this mislabeled plant isn’t a hybrid, too. It did go to seed last summer and none of them came up this spring. Apparently, from what I have read, growing Baptisia from seed can be difficult.
No doubt about it, this is one beautiful plant! Baptisia australis, Blue False Indigo, was once used as a substitute for the real indigo, Indigofera tinctoria, for blue dye.
The long flower scapes hold up well in wind and heavy rain. I have never had a problem with them flopping over. The photo above makes the flowers look a bit pale. But, I promise you, these flowers are a beautiful dark blue.
The photo shows how beautiful the blue color is on this plant. But, I promise you, the photo is a poor substitute for what the flowers look like in person.
There is a cultivar from Chicagoland Grows, like B. ‘Lunar Eclipse’, called ‘Blue Mound’. It is a cross between Baptisia australis var. australis x Baptisia australis var. minor. It is also part of the Prairieblues™ series from Chicagoland Grows. This is a likely candidate because the grower Green Street Market buys from likely grows both and the labels got screwed up. Hmmm… I sent an email to Jim Ault, Director of Ornamental Plant Research of the Chicago Botanic Garden to get his opinion. He is also the program manager of the Chicagoland introductions.
His reply… “It doesn’t look like B. australis ‘Blue Mound’. Blue Mound has finer foliage, and the plant is less upright and more rounded even at an early age than your images suggest. One other possibility. True Baptisia flower color is so hard to capture with digital. Is it possible your flowers look like the attached image, color-wise? If so, you may have another one of our intros, Baptisia ‘Royal ‘Purple’. This is a complex hybrid that was selected for its B. australis like vigor and habit, but with darker purple flowers.”
Well, my Baptisia is definitely NOT purple of any shade.
Once the flowers fade, which doesn’t take as long as you would hope, the HUGE seed pods follow. Unfortunately, deadheading does not promote more flowers. Even though the seed pods are pretty big, the seeds inside are fairly small.
After flowering, you can allow the plant to continue with the seed pods or you can cut the plant back by 1/3 or cut back to where the inflorescence begins (or began). 🙂 If you choose to leave the seed pods intact, they will turn black and add a little more color even though part of the winter. The stems can bend over because the pods can become heavy.
How would you like to have peas that big?
I will continue adding more photos and information as time goes by.
If you have Baptisia with flowers this color and you know the cultivar name, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope you enjoyed this page and maybe found it useful. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, I would like to hear from you. You can also send an email from the CONTACT ME above. Please click on “like” if you visited this page. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. 🙂 You can check out the links below for further reading. The links take you directly to the genus and species of this plant or other useful information. If you notice I made an error, please let me know.