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Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis)

Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis) is a herbaceous perennial that grows in open areas such as meadows, roadsides, and stream-sides. It is the host plant for six species of butterflies and a nectar source for other insects. The purple flowers appear in the spring or early summer and the plant can sometimes become bushy. This plant can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Taxonomy and History of Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis)

Herbarium specimen of wild indigo (Baptisia australis).
Herbarium Specimen — Baptisia australis (L.) R.Br. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC Y 4.0)

Taxonomy

Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis) was originally described by Carl Von Linnaeus in Species Plantarum (1753) as Sophora australis. Later, Robert Brown, a Scottish botanist, renamed it to its current name, Baptisia australis. Three varieties, var. abberans, var. australis, and var. minor are recognized. This plant is a member of the Legume Family (Fabaceae).

Wild Indigo Description and Alternative Names

Leaves of wild indigo (Baptisia australis).
Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis) leaves — R. A. Nonenmacher, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Description

Wild Indigo is a herbaceous perennial that grows to 3 to 5 feet tall and can often appear as a shrub. The alternate, compound (ternate), subulate, entire leaflets range are less than 1 inch in length and width.

Alternative Names

This plant is also known as Blue False Indigo, False Indigo, and Wild Blue Indigo.

Range and Habitat

Meadow habitat in Europe.
Meadow Habitat — Leonhard Lenz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Range

Range map of wild indigo (Baptisia australis) in the United States and Canada.

This species is generally in the midwest and eastern United States.

Habitat

Wild Indigo grows in open sunny places such meadows, roadsides, and streamsides.

Hoary edge (Aschalarus lyciades) butterfly on purple flower.
Hoary Edge Butterfly — ALAN SCHMIERER from southeast AZ, USA, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Wood thrush on branch.
Wood Thrush — Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Host Species

This plant is a host to the Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme), clouded sulphur (Colias philodice), frosted elfin (Callophrys irus), wild indigo duskywing (Erynnis baptisiae), Eastern Tailed Blue (Cupido comyntas), and the Hoary Edge (Achalarus lyciades).

Other Wildlife Value

The flowers are used as a nectar source by other butterflies, bees, and insects and the seeds by birds and mammals.

Interesting Facts

The genus name, Baptisia, means “to dye” and the species name, australis, refers to its southern distribution (Missouri Botanical Garden).

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