Feature photo is of Cherries Jubilee cultivar

Left to right: Twilite Prairie Blues; Sapphire Spires; Purple Smoke; Solar Flares; Dutch Chocolate

Our collection of Bapisia australis (False Indigo) cultivars are starting to bloom! This native leafy shrub comes in a variety of colors ranging from white, yellows, oranges, pinks, purples, blues, browns, and blacks. I don’t yet have every cultivar, but I have been working on it since discovering this amazing shrub in 2013.

My obsession began with a pair of Twilite Prairie Blues. The flowers seem to glow in evening light. During the day the color appears as a rich brownish purple on the wings and banner of the flower with a sharp contrasting yellow keel. Purple Smoke is also a favorite because the stems are a smoky gray color–the only cultivar that has this unique coloration. The flowers are a pale pinkish lavender. Cherries Jubilee was added about three years ago when it became readily available. The reddish brown banner and wings with yellow keel is the bomb! I added Sapphire Spires recently and got to see the flowers for the first time last year after waiting a year for the plant to mature. Solar Flares color changes as the flowers mature starting off yellow and fading to a reddish hue. Dutch Chocolate is a deep, rich blackish-brown with hints of burgundy and purples. This year I’m waiting to see Midnight Prairie Blues for the first time; it was planted a couple of springs ago.

Baptisia started from seed takes up to 5 years to mature enough to flower. It then takes another 5 years to be mature enough to divide the plant, if so desired. The plant is quite durable and will thrive under benign neglect for the most part. In the wild the plant grows in the midst of tall grasses and other ‘weedy’ plants.

Not only is Baptisia squee-worthy eye candy, it serves as a host plant for the Silver Spotted Skipper and the Wild Indigo Duskywing. Both caterpillars are leaf-turners, meaning they will lay down silk on the leaf so that it will curl up around them for protection.

Left: Silver Spotted Skipper caterpillar; Right: Wild Indigo Duskywing caterpillar

The show of flowers lasts for only about 2-3 weeks. Afterwards the leaves bush out and the shrub rounds out. A mature Baptisia plant will expand to a diameter of 5-6 feet with a height of about 3-4 feet. The foliage is quite stunning and attractive for the rest of the year.

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