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2020 Kansas Wildflower of the Year

Blue Wild Indigo—Baptisia australis

 

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Baptisia australis Click for large image

Click for larger image

 

by Brad Guhr

Baptisia australis photos
by Michael Haddock

Blue wild indigo (Baptisia australis var. minor) is the Kansas Native Plant Society 2020 Wildflower of the Year (WOY). It is also known by the common name blue false indigo.

Found in roughly the eastern 2/3 of Kansas, this one to four-foot tall, stout and erect perennial with smooth, waxy stems/leaves thrives in prairie to open woodland habitat with soils ranging from limestone to clay. The recognizable pea-like flower and three-leaflet compound leaf help cue that this species is a nitrogen-fixing legume in the bean (Fabaceae) family.

The name derivation for Baptisia comes from the Greek word bapto meaning “to dye” and for australis, the Latin meaning is “southern”. The variety name minor (Latin for “small”) refers to the smaller leaves when compared with eastern varieties. The flowers when squeezed yield an indigo-colored dye, and the name false indigo makes reference to the color being an inferior substitute for true indigo (genus Indigofera) in making dyes.

The April to early June flowers of blue wild indigo make it an attractive landscaping plant. Its six-foot root system develops slowly and new plants need roughly five years of establishment before flowering. Ripe seeds become loose in the pods that resemble a baby rattle.

Baptisia flowers attract bumblebees as pollinators, the vegetation is a host plant for the wild indigo duskywing butterfly, and a Baptisia seed pod weevil lays its eggs in the seed pods where larvae hatch and feed on the seeds. All parts of the plant contain poisonous alkaloids and cattle tend to avoid eating it.

The ripe bean seeds develop a hard coat that wears down slowly. To greatly improve seed germination success of hardened seeds, scarify them with medium sandpaper or soak in hot water before applying cold, wet stratification. Collecting pods a bit green before seed hardening occurs has been shown to allow germination without any treatment.

To see these photos by Michael Haddock and a detailed description of Baptisia australis var. minor, visit kswildflower.org.

Baptisia australis habitat

Baptisia australis dried seed pods

Baptisia australis drawing by Lorna Harder

Drawing of Baptisia australis by Lorna Harder

Baptisia australis seed pods drawing by Lorna Harder

Drawing of Baptisia australis seed pods by Lorna Harder

Commentary by Brad Guhr
Verbena strict images by Mike Haddock

 

Author Brad Guhr- Kansas Native Plant Society

Author: Brad Guhr- Kansas Native Plant Society President 2020

Mike Haddock- Photographer Kansas Native Plant Society 2020

Photo images by Mike Haddock- Kansas Native Plant Society