Thursday 27 Jul 2017

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March Plant Spotlight: Baptisia

As we near spring, you might be looking to add some new plants to your garden to give a new splash of spring color. Baptisia is a long-lived perennial that will add flower color in the spring and attractive foliage during the growing season.

Baptisia is also known as false or wild indigo (Baptisia spp.). Baptisia is a large group of plants, with around 20 species. Some Baptisia species of the plant are know for being used to produce a blue dye by both Native Americans and settlers. Baptisia species are native to eastern or Midwestern North America.

The main attraction of Baptisias is their spring flowers. Most will bloom in March to early May, depending on the species, climate and region. The flower spikes have a short stem attaching each individual flower to the main stalk with spikes reaching 12 to 24 inches tall. The flowers can be blue, white or yellow. It takes a couple of years for Baptisias to mature, where they then can hold numerous flower spikes in full bloom. Because Baptisias are in the legume family, they have pea-shaped flowers that will develop into bean-like pods in the summer.

Baptisia leaves are made up of three leaflets (trifoliate) and alternate along the stem. The leaf shape will vary from oblong to almost rounded oval. The leaves are bluish-green to bright yellow-green. The foliage is dense and attractive, giving a shrub-like appearance. Since Baptisia is an herbaceous perennial, in the fall the leaves will quickly turn black and eventually dieback to the ground each winter. The leftover stems can be cut back after the foliage is gone.

Baptisia grows best in rich, moist but well-drained soils. After the plant is established, it is drought tolerate due to their very deep root system. They prefer full sun but can tolerate some light shade. Baptisias have additional features including being deer resistant along with heat and humidity tolerant. Disease and insect problems are very rare in Baptisia.

There are many species, cultivars and hybrids of Baptisia. Below are just a few of the popular Baptisia species:

* Baptisia alba is known for having white flowers. It grows 2 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 2 ½ feet wide. The flowers last for 4 to 6 weeks.

* Baptisia australis was named the 2010 Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association. This species grows 3 to 4 feet tall and same size in width. The flowers are bright indigo blue lasting for up to 6 weeks.

* Baptisia bracteata has pale yellow or cream colored flowers. This species is compact, growing 18 to 24 inches tall with low arching stems.

* Baptisia sphaerocarpa is the yellow false indigo growing 2 to 3 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide with bright, yellow flowers.

Baptisia has many positive features in the landscape making it an attractive, low-maintenance native perennial one can enjoy in their garden for years to come.

Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis, photo courtesy of K. Blaedow, Wayne Co. Extension)

–Jessica Strickland – Wayne County Horticulture Extension Agent

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