False Blue Indigo is a shrub-like perennial with attractive, soft blue-green foliage all season. In spring, open spikes of 1″ indigo-blue flowers emerge, followed by attractive seedpods that can be used in dried arrangements. While the blooms are early-season, the unique texture of this plant gives it interest through fall. An excellent choice where space permits and soils are excessively dry. May also be known as Blue Wild Indigo, Wild Blue Indigo, and Rattlepod.
As a large plant, False Blue Indigo does best where it is given room to grow. The foliage is attractive up-close and at a distance, allowing it to be used as a specimen in dry gardens, or as part of a mass in island beds or retaining walls. It can even be used as a component of a shrub border. In environments with more shade, False Blue Indigo will have a more open habit than when grown in full-sun.
The flowers of False Blue Indigo are attractive to Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, although Queen Bumblebees are the primary pollinators for this plant.
False Blue Indigo is a larval host to several moth, skipper, and butterfly species. In Southeastern Wisconsin, you’ll be able to see the Three-Lined Grapholita, Wild Indigo Duskywing, Frosted Elfin, and Orange Sulphur. And if you’re lucky, you may find the Marine Blue feeding on the plant in the Driftless area of Wisconsin.
False Blue Indigo is a long-lived plant that gets better with age. While young plants may appear stunted, this is only because most of their energy is directed towards developing a deep taproot. Blooms will get better each year as the plant becomes more established. Once established, False Blue Indigo is an extremely tough, durable plant that will provide beauty and wildlife interest for decades.
Due to its deep rooting habit, False Blue Indigo should not be transplanted or divided. Established plants are best left alone and the plant requires little maintenance. Supplemental watering after the first year is not necessary due to the plant’s superb drought tolerance. Fertilizing is also not recommended for established plants as this can cause growth to become leggy and less-stable.
Deadheading the spent flowers in spring can prolong the bloom period, but this plant is attractive enough in its own right that deadheading is not necessary. While the plant can(italicize) be sheared, this is only a marginal improvement over the already-rounded habit and will eliminate the attractive seed pods that form later in the season. Remember, just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.
Larger plants, those grown in less than full sun, or those that are over-fertilized may need support to keep upright. While you can use a cage to keep the plant upright, you’re better off siting the plant correctly where the habit will be full and healthy.
In periods of high winds or excessive rainfall, portions of the plant may flop. Although it may be unsightly, do not cut back these stems as they are important for building nutrient reserves. Once the foliage has faded to gray, the stems can be cut back to 2 inches above ground. If you don’t mind the look over winter, you can leave the entire plant up. New growth will obscure the spent foliage of the previous year by late spring or early summer.
Although the plant produces seed, new seedlings are seldom a problem in the landscape as they are often shaded out by the established plant. Young plants can be moved, although once established their taproot makes transplanting difficult (if not impossible).
False Blue Indigo has no major insect or disease issues, and is resistant to Deer and Rabbit browsing. While foliage may occasionally be eaten by insects, this is just the plant fulfilling its role in the environment as a larval host for butterflies, moths, and skippers.
Although of no concern to the aesthetic value of the plant, Parasitic Weevils will infest the seed pods and consume the seeds, reducing overall viability. However, this insect does not reduce the overall vigor of the plant and may be considered beneficial as it reduces the rate that False Blue Indigo volunteers in the landscape.
False Blue Indigo gets its name from its sap. When exposed to air, the fluids within the plant turn a beautiful blue which can be used as a substitute for Indigo dye. However, it’s not quite the quality of Indigo and won’t provide as intense or long-lasting a color. Historically, False Blue Indigo was used by the Cherokee to make a hot purgative tea (read: super laxative that will not make you any friends), and a cold tea would be used to stop vomiting. The scientific name Baptisia australis(italicize) comes from the greek word Bapto, meaning ‘to dye’ and australis, meaning ‘southern’.
The seed pods are very attractive in winter and will rattle in the breeze. You can take them for cut flower arrangements if desired, or as makeshift maracas.
False Blue Indigo is able to establish in difficult sites due to its deep taproot and mycorrhizal fungus. These fungal friends are able to fix nitrogen for the plant and allow it to survive in areas with little soil nutrition.
Pair False Blue Indigo with other hardy prairie plants like Prairie Smoke, Butterflyweed, Nodding Pink Onion, Asters, and St. John’s Wort for all-season color and interest.