Baptisia comes from the Greek work bapto which means ‘to dye’.
False indigo refers to the fact that the garden variety B. australis is not the plant used for creating the indigo blue color in dye. If it isn’t the right plant – it’s false. Although there are some indications that it was used by settlers as a substitute for the real thing.
- Bloom time: Early summer to midsummer
- Height: 24”
- Sun needed: Full
- Bloom color: Intense blue on species – see pics for new hybrids
- Planting space: 18” to 24” apart
- Soil preferred: Open, sandy, gravelly
- Propagation method: Seed, division but better to sow seed
Baptisia australis This is the most commonly grown form in gardens and wonderfully so. If growing from seed, try to sow each seed (or several) in its own pot.
I happen to like this family of plants and have grown them for years. I got my first seeds over 30 years ago from a seed exchange, grew them and fell in love. The only problems I’ve ever had with them is 1) trying to move them several years in a row (they were not impressed and died) and 2) digging them out while weeding first thing in the spring (face palm moment supreme afterwards when they didn’t appear)
Now that my basement repair days are over and the sunshine garden is up and running, this will be one of the plants I’ll start collecting.
It resents transplanting as a small seedling and many have died off for me after disturbing the young roots.
Keep them in the pot until they are large enough and the weather is warm enough for direct transplanting into the garden. Do so with as little root disturbance as possible.
Baptisia tinctoria is the yellow species and grows the same as B. australis. You can see the effects of crossing them to get the hybrids below.
This is a plant of poor soils, in dry locations with excellent drainage.
In the wild, it is often found on gravel or sandy soils in soils that are low in nutrients.
Grow it in full sun and it will do best in soils that are neutral to slightly acidic.
You may have to stake the plant if it gets too tall – you’re feeding it too much.
Potions and Poisons
The family has a reputation for being a purgative (vomiting) and having antiseptic uses. It is not labeled as poisonous but I suspect that eating the seeds would not be a happy experience. Deadhead for safety.