Handsome foliage and stunning flowers make blue wild indigo a plant with presence in a perennial garden or mixed border. Here, blue wild indigo rises behind a patch of Appalachian smooth phlox.
Bumblebees know a good thing when they see it. So do gardeners. And both buzz with approval when the wild indigo (Baptisia spp.) blooms. These rugged plants and their lupine-like spires of bloom are real attentiongetters. In early spring, when the white wild indigos wave their banners of bloom atop 3-foot spikes, there’s a refrain I hear over and over from visitors to the garden: “Wow! What’s that?”
Those impressive spikes of spring-blooming, eye-catching flowers— which, depending on the species are white, blue, yellow, or purple—are the main reason most gardeners grow wild indigos, but flowers are only part of their appeal. These are tough, virtually pest- and disease-free perennials with handsome foliage, intriguing seedpods, and a long season of interest. They’re all you could hope for from any perennial.
Nearly a quarter century of growing the genus Baptisia has only increased my interest in this wonderful, mostly southern group of native North American perennials. As curator of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, I have focused on propagating, growing, and telling gardeners about these worthy wildflowers. I have even had the privilege of introducing a superior form, Baptisia X ‘Purple Smoke’, to the nursery trade.
Wild indigos are worthy substitutes for lupines, which don’t like the hot, muggy southeastern summers. These sturdy American natives are so rugged, low-maintenance, and long-lived—not to mention beautiful—that it makes me want to salute them.